Keep­ing cool over school

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Stephen Rosen­thal

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

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