Finding a ‘good’ school. Now there’s an age old topic. Or how about finding a school altogether? An increasingly pressing topic in boroughs such as ours, where the number of primary school places available simply does not match the number of 5-year-olds.
This year in Camden, 153 kids did not get a place in April, despite an application process that asks parents to list up to 6 choices. And then there are the children, like my daughter, who didn’t get offered any of our choice of local schools and declined the random place offered elsewhere. How many of these cases there are around here’s unknown, since if an offered place is declined, Camden consider the child has been ‘withdrawn’ from the process and they enter a statistical black hole.
I’ve always cringed at earnest conversation about ‘good’ schools. Having been through the local state school system (attending the very school my daughter now can’t get into) the clichéd dinner party dialogue, with all its pushy ambition, blatant snobbery and peer group panic makes me feel uncomfortable.
Wanting the best for your offspring is a universal impulse, regularly leading people to lose all sense of perspective – faking faith, moving house at vastly inflated costs and all other deranged practices that have become normalised in the quest for the coveted ‘good’ school.
So now I find myself as a parent in Camden in 2012 squeezed into this bizarre melee regardless of my previously relaxed views. Forced to have exactly these dreaded, fussy conversations whether I like it or not. Oh dear!
So, with huge pressures from all these forces, an illusion of choice and a centralised system that awards places on sketchy geographical grounds, parents in the ‘hidden’ stats black hole, who can’t/won’t either pay, pray or travel for places, have to look at home schooling their kids.
There are estimated to be 60k children being taught at home in the UK. Unlike the US, where it’s also a much bigger phenomenon due to remote locations and religious convictions, here in the UK it’s often bullying that leads to home schooling, and now increasingly a lack of school places too.
Kentishtowner reader Steve Verrall (he of the legendary 4am Talacre gymnastics class queue) is facing exactly this situation, still considering down a place offered at a school on the far side of the borough to where his family lives. They’ve found mixed reactions to the prospect of home schooling for their daughter.
‘It’d be nice to have the confidence that you are OK not sending your kid to school,’ he says. ‘That they aren’t missing out on anything, that they’ll be fine, and have conviction in your beliefs. But it’s hard to feel like that when your friends are all sending their kids off to school. It would be better to be embarking on this 100% out of choice and not just because of a lack of options.’
Much like other inter-parental hot potatoes such as breastfeeding and vaccinations, there is a surprising amount of opinionated social pressure that suddenly bears down on parents looking at home schooling. In the face of the whiff of stigma that supposes you are almost joining a hippy cult, many parents may crumble and accept any place, despite the daily commute or unsuitability of the school to their child.
As we stare these various unsatisfactory options in the face with only weeks to go until the start of the new school year, it would be good to hear from other parents in the area on the choices they have made or had to make, particularly on home schooling.
This matters, because those of us lost in Camden’s statistics black hole may reveal some facts and trends. Data that could help ease this competitive, skewed and unhappy situation for future years of 5-year-olds who ultimately just want to go to the same school as their friends.
Words: Tom (& Mrs Z) Kihl
Why It Matters is published in association with Discount Insurance.