Keeping cool over school
FOR MANY, the coming weeks will be stressful, as parents learn if their children have gained a place in the nursery, primary or secondary schools of their choice. Or, a place in any school at all. If you’ve been spared this relatively recent communal right of passage, take it from someone who hasn’t — twice — it can be a testing, demoralising experience. The current, unprecedented demand for places renders school entry a lottery, where only a lucky few can win the jackpot. Our experience was more like a raffle, that’s a raffle in which we bought a book full of tickets, only to later find out there wasn’t actually going to be a draw.
Our eldest daughter failed to win a place at any Jewish nursery, and then, a year later, in any reception class. With single form entry and sibling places at an all-time high, we were battling against hundreds of children for a dozen or so available places across six schools.
With the odds so heavily stacked against success, many parents feel compelled to beg, pester, hustle and scrap in an attempt to secure one.
Trust me, it’s a miserable existence, and one that strikes months of fear and paranoia into rational, decent people on all sides of the issue.
Because it’s not just the parents who suffer. Pity the poor teachers and administrators. They don’t get paid enough for this.
Pity the poor volunteer admissions governors. They have strangers, acquaintances, friends and family calling, writing and often harassing them at all hours. And they don’t get paid at all for this.
I get it. Education really matters to us. The Pew Research Centre’s Global Education by Religious Group Study recently revealed that Jews spend more years in formal education than any other faith.
And we always have. By a country mile. The global average is 7.7 years. For Jews, it’s 13.4.
So take comfort. There’s empirical evidence as to why you feel you need to attend the fundraisers, invite the governors to Friday-night dinner and strategically rent second properties in the right post codes.
When you’re calling the school office for the 30th consecutive day to show your dedication/check if you’ve moved up a place on the 70-child-long waiting list, take comfort. It’s not a meshugas. It’s genetic.
Throughout our ordeal — which, thankfully, ended positively at the eleventh hour — I struggled with the idea that, in the largest, most prosperous Jewish community in British history, we can’t be certain of a place at a Jewish school, let alone choose one that suits our preferences or our children’s needs.
We’ve somehow reached a reality where, much like our kids will learn (assuming they get a place), we have to, “get what we get and not get upset.” And that can’t be right.
So what’s the answer? More transparency? Strict adherence to the application process? Longer term planning? More schools? Honestly, I’ve no idea. This clearly isn’t a problem that’s easily solved. With the amazingly dedicated educators, lay leaders and philanthropists we’re blessed to have, if it was, it’d have been fixed.
I say leave that to the pros.
But, on a human level, I’d like to think, between us, we can work out a way to navigate the process without collectively breeding the pervasive environment of stress, anguish and the kind of tactics we all hate but feel compelled to try in the — let’s face it — faint hope of gaining any tiny advantage.
I don’t know. But being officially the world’s most educated people, if anyone can crack it, surely it’s us.
Trust me, it’s a miserable experience that makes you paranoid