Yesterday was one of those days – a day full of excitement and tension. The day when thousands of parents found out whether or not their beloved offspring had secured a place in the chosen school. A day when hysteria hit the home counties.
For more than a few, there is heartbreak and gloom, particularly if said parents live in a procreating boom town or in an urban area where pressure on places is always high. It seems some local authorities have managed this process better than others (see link).
All that is left now is the long-shot of a successful appeal or, more likely, a painful adjustment to expectations. The new school may be neither close nor convenient. Or, equally, it may be close but unwanted.
It’s tough. Really tough for some who didn’t get a place at any of their six selected schools – 15% of applications in Kensington and Chelsea fall into this category.
Of course, this does call in to question all this cash being pumped into free schools, in areas where there is already a glut of places. Madness upon madness and hopefully some of the ire these parents feel will be directed towards Gove and his poisonous policies.
But running parallel to the genuine inconvenience and uncertainty this process has caused for some, is a bubbling panic that says a great deal about how schools are judged, labelled, categorised and branded as good or bad, desirable or not.
The school my youngest child is in has been denigrated for years. Ofsted gave it a shocker of a report. Another local school and its super Head were brought in to shake things up. The school was known locally, if you know what I mean – it had a bad rep.
Friends, who I now respect a little less, moved house to escape the catchment. Others would adopt a strange look, an odd mixture of pity and disgust, when we placed the school top of our list and said we’d be gutted if she missed out. Gutted because it’s our local school, it’s where we live, it’s our patch of the world – if there’s a problem, we’re part of the solution. More recently, the school is on the up, but reputations linger.
The challenge for the undesirable school is to change this reputation. Much more easily said than done – damaged goods are hard to fix.
But it can be done by doing the obvious (good teachers in the classroom) and by being open and transparent. Most parents are pleasantly surprised that the school with the bad reputation is actually full of smiling and successful children, energetic and determined teachers and leaders who are directing the ship towards sunnier shores.
Maybe, just maybe, some of the hysteria is misplaced and, actually, the school with the bad reputation – the one that was way down the list, or not on it at all – is actually a diamond which just needs a polish and to be held up to the light.