Tuesday, 5 June 2012

State or Private? How do you choose a school?

When we moved to our current house, the last thing on our minds was how good (or bad) the schools around here were.  Well, we didn't plan on having children so it really didn't matter did it.

However, a few years down the line and two under 5s in the house now and suddenly we are extremely concerned about the schools, the lack of places and the waiting lists.  But why?  Surely you just go to the nearest school to your house - that's what we did when we were young.  There were no Ofsted reports to view online, no league tables for your State schools (yes the private schools had their rankings but our families couldn't afford those so who cared) and no waiting lists to get into a preferred school. So, what has gone wrong now?

Immigration is higher now than it was then, significantly so with Europe being 'opened up' and birth rates are rising, yet still many schools have just one or two classes available for the new joiners, as they did 40+ years ago.

We started to think about schools when S was not quite a year old.  Crazy you may say but when you realise that we looked up details on our 3 local schools - one being about 200 yards away - and found two were under 'special measures' and one was oversubscribed by 2+ times the quota they took in, you'll realise why we became worried.  There was no way on earth we were sending our girls to a 'failing' school and it seemed the next best one we had little chance of even getting into as we are 1.3 miles away and their recent catchment area has been 0.3 of a mile.

So, we considered private schooling.  Something I always thought was just for the very rich.  It's not.  Yes, there are some very wealthy people there who probably don't bat an eyelid at the fees but then there are many people just like us who sacrifice other things to give our girls a good education and work hard to pay for it.  We aren't snobs. We aren't rich.  We don't have lots of money in the bank.  We just aren't prepared to offer our children a sub-standard education just because the school is close by. So, at 1 year old, we toured the school and put her name down.

To be honest, why should any school fail? Shouldn't they all have good, qualified teachers and meet Government standards?  You would think so wouldn't you. I'm not about to get into the political arguments here but I find it mind-boggling that the first four schools we are in catchment of, are all almost at the bottom of the Goverment league tables for this area.  Great huh?  No wonder people move house to get into the right school but what a palava to go through!

S has started her education at a lovely preparatory school for girls.  The class sizes are small, the teachers specialist in their subjects and the care excellent.  They all wear an identical school uniform even down to the shoes and rucksacks.  I think that is a marvellous idea. I like school uniform at any school.  It gives a sense of belonging and unity.

The idea was a simple one. To put S through the private schools in the area and once she had started full time, I would go back to work or build my business.  Then N came along.  A true blessing to us but, now the outlook is a little less certain.  One child in private school is do-able.  Two is going to be hard work and, effectively, all my income would simply pay the fees.  Daft?  Maybe, but what other options do we have?

To be honest, I would rather home-educate than send either of my youngest to the local school - yes, it's about 3rd from bottom for the whole of the County with less than 23% of children there meeting the Goverment targets for maths and English when they leave. What a dreadful claim to fame. I think every teacher and the head there should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I also had no idea that when you choose a State school you need to be so careful about your preferences (a friend told me this).  I would have put the two good, oversubscribed schools at the top and then one further away as 3rd choice.  Bugger going down to 6 choices!  Anyway, it seems that if we didn't get top choice, then the 2nd choice would look and say "oh, we're only 2nd choice for these people so we'll take all our 1st choice people first and if there are any spaces, we'll take the 2nd choice, then 3rd, etc".  However, if you don't get in to either, the 3rd choice school would say "we'll take 1st choice, then 2nd choice and, if any spaces are left over, we'll take 3rd choice".  It would be easier to play Russian roulette for a place at the school!  What an awful system!

So, for now, private education is our only choice. If we get our girls into one of the good schools, we will consider moving them but at the moment that just isn't an option.

7 comments:

  1. We had to put our children's names onto a waiting list for a good pre-school almost as soon as they were born. They don't start there until they're two and a half! It's not a private pre-school either, just very popular with parents because it's known to be good. That in itself really opened our eyes about how heavily in demand good schools are

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  2. I agree, it really highlights it to you how much of a lottery getting into a good school can be. Glad you got the nursery you wanted :)

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  3. We are lucky as both nearby state schools are good. I still feel unhappy that we didn't get our first choice as we live 300m too far away. The annoying thing is that you are told it is a choice, but it isn't, it is a preference. At the end of the day it is down to your postcode. As a secondary teacher I know that good kids do well wherever they go. Even failing schools have A grade students, but as a Mum, I just want the best possible start I can give them.

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  4. I have concerns about 'good kids doing well' particularly in primary schools to be honest hun. The one just down the road from us has 2% of children 'above average' at the end of their time there. That is about the lowest in Surrey so that says to me a bad school is a bad school, no matter how good the children are. It's a dreadful concern and you are quite right, it is only a preference not a choice which I feel is totally wrong. No wonder all the good schools in an area are oversubscribed. I would rather home educate than send my girls to any of the closest 3 around here. Sad but true.

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  5. Our daughter is just leaving a superb private school after 14 wonderful years there. We made that choice for her for the same reasons as you. It's tragic we've had to pay to offer her the sort of education every child has a right to. And we're not rich. far from it. Yes it has cost a fair bit but we've managed. We live in a small terraced house with no essential en-suite or downstairs cloakroom, we both work, we just run 1 car and go on camping holidays. We could have made different choices but we're so glad we didn't.
    She has done far better academically than she would have done in a "failing school" (and no she isn't straight A grade material) but more importantly she is a super, well rounded, kind, loyal and self assured young woman (so others say), who has equally delightful friends. She has gained her bronze, silver and gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards, played music and sport to a high standard and ended up as House captain. She has ambition and is now planning to travel before going to university. She has had so many opportunities that simply aren't offered in the local state school including a month long expedition to Borneo (geocachers may want to look at have GC1B1K10).
    Would we do it again? Definitely. Children are our future. It's been the very best thing we've done for her.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I so agree. We are pretty much the same as you. I am hoping that we can afford to put both girls through the school that S is in but it will be very, very tight (to say the least). You are quite right that the opportunities they get in a private school are so much better/different to those of a state school. All children have a right to a good education - it's a shame not all schools provide that :(

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