Monday evening of this week was the time that nervous year 6 students and their parents had been waiting for for SIX whole months. The day they were told which secondary school they have been allocated.
It’s a long, long, nervous wait for most as children take their entrance exam (if applicable) and apply for school way back in September/October time. The school your child attends is one of the most important decisions we have to make as parents, and one that could affect the rest of their lives. We want to get it right.
But for many, the choice is not that simple.
For lots of families in England, the area they live in means schools are often so oversubscribed that the council only have one way to deal with this, and that is by introducing the dreaded 11+ exam. The children sit the exam then the schools are allocated based on different criteria, the main one being results of the exam, with the top scorers receiving the best school offer, other factors include siblings and music ability, with catchment becoming a tiny percentage.
It’s an unfair system that often sees copious amounts of children not gaining their first choice school. Or their second. Or third. Many don’t get any of the selections they made and are simply allocated any school that has places, which are obviously the schools which are the least desirable.
To be in with a chance of securing ANY decent school in some areas, parents are having to tutor their child for months or even years to see that they get the highest marks possible, which for others isn’t feasible financially or their child still won’t reach top marks because they simply aren’t academic enough. The exam is tough and what I’ve seen this week is bright, tutored children who were expected to achieve a good mark, didn’t. Exam day stress ensured they didn’t quite reach the target, therefore not being offered the school they deserve.
Some areas have brought in the ‘banding’ system, which is much fairer. With this method, schools take a certain amount of children from each ‘band’ or ability groups, with the aim of having a more balanced intake, rather than just taking the brightest. I think if the 11+ was dropped completely in favour of this method, schools would be more on an equal par with each other, making the choice much easier for parents by simply choosing their nearest school.
If a child isn’t allocated a school they want, parents are given the option of appealing. This entails putting together a list of reasons why you believe it’s in your childs best interest to attend the school of choice, then presenting your case to an independent panel. They will then make the decision as to whether to uphold your appeal. For some schools there could be upwards of 50 appeals, meaning your reasons need to be pretty desperate. There is however, the option of hiring a ‘professional’ to put a case together for you if this is something you feel strongly enough about, and lets face it, most of us do. A solicitor with some experience of these matters would be ideal. I do know families who have gone down this route and it has been very successful, so maybe worth looking into and stretching that budget for.
We shouldn’t have to do this though. The whole process has become such a stressful time.
Here in South Hertfordshire we have the 11+ exam and on Tuesday morning during the school run I witnessed many an upset Mum who was distraught at their allocated school. We have some excellent schools around here, some of the best, but the competition for places if fierce, with more than 30 children fighting for one place in some cases! It’s ludicrous. Some families are moving out of this area all together, which is a very desirable place to live, and into an area where this ‘school lottery’ doesn’t exist, so they can apply for their nearest GOOD school in catchment.
There needs to be GOOD schools everywhere, for everyone.
If you haven’t been offered your preferred school initially there is still hope at this early stage. Usually there’s lots of movement as people accept their school choice then change their minds, people move, others decide to go down the private school route, or for whatever reason, places become available again. The most important thing at this stage is to stay on the continued interest lists for all the schools you would prefer to the one you’ve been allocated, then as places become available you could be offered one of them. The lists keep shuffling all the way up to September and beyond so don’t give up hope.
Did you get your childs’ secondary allocation this week? Were you lucky enough to be offered your preferred school? Or was there disappointment? I’d love to hear from you!