Tag Archives: Northampton school for Boys

Secondary school places – the fallout

HUNDREDS of you will have received your child’s secondary school place allocation letter by now, and will either be delighted or disappointed.

My view on parents being given any ‘choice’ about their preferred schools is well documented in these weekly rants, so I won’t bore you now, albeit to say we unsuccessfully went through the stressful appeals process three years ago.

Unless you really have a really good reason, and I mean like twins being spilt up, I really would think hard about whether to put you and your child through it. You can read up on all the procedures via http://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk.

I would, however, recommend putting them on the school’s waiting list if your child wants you to. Two years later, our son was offered a place when someone left.

In the meantime, the best thing you can do is listen to, reassure and support your child whichever school they attend. Secondary school is scary enough without any more stress.

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Don’t kid yourself, there’s no magic formula to getting into NSB

STAYING on the subject of Northampton School for Boys, I’ve had calls from friends recently, asking me: “How did you get yours in?”

Well, if you’ve followed these ramblings over recent years, you’ll know that I didn’t.

Yes, Jed and Dougie are now both NSB pupils, but I certainly didn’t ‘get them in.’

And if you are helping your Year Six son choose a school for next September, there’s nothing you can do to ‘get them in’ either, other than fill in the forms and hope for the best. So don’t hold your breath.

There’s no ‘points criterion’ like there was in the past. You have to take them to do a ‘banding’ test on a Saturday morning, and might take the technology and music exams which share a handful places among genius kids. Other than that, the school insists its selection is random.

The number of available places – once you’ve taken out those with siblings already there, those with statements of special needs and the aforementioned geniuses – is probably less than 100.

Yet there will be over 700 applicants for those places from across the county and beyond as there’s no catchment area, which may explain the huge amount of pupils who seem to come not from Northampton, but from wealthy villages.

When our first-born Jed applied three years ago, he didn’t get in. We appealed, he still didn’t get in. He went to another school, which he quite enjoyed, but stubbornly stayed on the NSB waiting list, even though we were told it was highly unlikely a place would come up.

A year later, second son Dougie, keen to stay with his friends from primary school, also applied for NSB as his first choice. And he DID get in.

Things were a little awkward at home between brothers, mostly over the vastly differing sporting opportunities at their respective schools.

Then a week before the start of the 2011 summer holidays, we had a letter, saying a place had come up at NSB, and would Jed still like it?

I won’t bore you with further repetition, but he took the place, and started this term in Year 9, two years after his peers.

A note of caution to prospective parents: If your son hates sport, it might not be an ideal first-choice school. (Just ask any pupils about the ‘levels run.’) Discipline is strict, expectations are high, and curiously for a school with no selection, you can really feel like a pauper when you see the rows of Range Rovers and Mercs doing the school run.

There’s no doubt it’s a good school, but try not to let yourself become blinkered – there are other good schools out there too.

 

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Limit school trips to one a year to stave off bankruptcy

BIG lump in my throat last Monday, as our Dougie left for a school trip to an activity centre somewhere near Swindon.

It was a week away where he was doing abseiling, assault courses, aeroball, archery, canoeing, climbing, fencing, orienteering, raft building, zip wires and general 12-year-old boy stuff.

Meanwhile, I was fretting, quietly, to myself. (Because no one else would listen).

After 14 years being a parent, I shouldn’t be fazed by trips. After all, our elder two have both enjoyed the famous ‘first nights away’ trip to Everdon and the PGL centre at Osmington Bay, Dorset, and braved the windy wilds of both Overstone and Hollowell Cub camps.

But as well as the (concealed) separation anxiety, there’s the cost.

We have to have a rule in our house about school trips: they chose no more than one a year and pay half themselves.

It might sound hard, but we have four children and not a huge income. The kids do have to really decide how much they want to go on a particular trip.

It makes them appreciate how far money has to stretch, although it does you feel cruddy when their wealthier friends are going on several trips a year.

This is nothing new. Back in the health & safety-free 1970s and 80s, neither Bloke or I went on many school trips.

There were always those who seemed to go on cruises and ski-trips regardless of their family’s financial background, while my most exotic destinations were to Butlins in Minehead and a one-night stay in London. I try hard not to repeat that parent mantra “you’ll appreciate it more when you’re older” because as a teen who didn’t get to go, it drove me potty.

Our boys’ school has already organised 2011 trips to Tunisia, Sicily, Turkey, Cornwall and the USA.

We parents were informed about Dougie’s PGL trip way more than a year ago in their first term at secondary school. Not only were we given a huge amount of notice, but also a good number of months over which to pay for it.

The total cost for the week was £300, with instalments due in March, May and July, giving us time to save up.

Meanwhile, the same school didn’t give anything like as much time for a planned trip to China. Yes, China.

Poor Jed, aged 14, came home recently raving about the chance to go on an eight-day tour in February.

The cost? £1,225. First payment of £200 immediately, with the rest in sizable chunks each month until Christmas. There’s no way we could find that kind of cash that quickly.

We had heard about the epic Northampton School for Boys China trip, but hadn’t anticipated it becoming an issue until Year 11 or sixth form. Turns out the school takes them from age 14-18.

Jed begged and pleaded, saying his friends were going, but we simply had to say no.

If he, and we, can save, it’s something he can do in a couple of years. A great opportunity, but not just yet.

So as we packed Dougie off on his UK-based adventure, my fretting started. Would he listen to instructions and not fall off the abseil tower? Would he resist peer pressure? Remember not wear the same pants every day?

Don’t tell him, but I was delighted to get him back on Friday. Even though he did bring back a suitcase full of soaked and stinking clothes because he’s fallen in the river while canoeing. . .

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After babyhood, prepare yourself for the shock and awe of the teenage years

PLENTY of people warn you about the impact a newborn baby will have on your life, but there’s a second phase of shock and awe to come which is less discussed.

When it comes to coping with teens, the conversation just becomes clichéd.

It’s true that they do, literally overnight, lose the ability to speak without mumbling and leave clothes and towels all over the floor. They do get spots and fill the house with a gagging fog of Lynx body spray (I’m sure if you have daughters it’s something like Impulse).

But who ever tells you how you’ll feel when they’re suddenly as tall as you, or have bigger feet than you?

Or when they start having friends whose Mums you don’t know from the school gates?

Or going to parties that don’t involve a bouncy castle injury and a piece of squashed birthday cake?

In a weird way, watching them grow up gives you delight and sadness.

Somehow the years between the ages of about two and 11 seem strangely simple, if a little manic. Even when I had four of them aged ten and under.

You know – most of the time – where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re up to.

Then suddenly, you don’t.

It’s easy, well, easy-ish, to allow them some independence. That mobile phone you finally relented on when they started secondary school, that might make you feel better because you would always know where they were?

Well, now it’s not only the ever extending leash, it’s the source of all the stuff you don’t know about. The Twitter feed, the faceless friends, the Facebook events, and freedom from family.

I can’t pretend I’m not jittery about seeing my elder boys grow up, grow away. And while I try to be cool, try not to hover, Bloke tells me I need to resist the urge to stop them making their own mistakes. I need to stop throwing up the metaphorical bumpers at the bowling alley.

I can’t help it, I still see my 14-year-old as that wide-eyed smiley baby who wouldn’t sit still for a moment.

Anyway, to revert to the clichés, I can still enjoy being an embarrassing mother. Apparently they are mortified when I get cross in shops, or try to hug them in public. Emptying their three-year-old sister Bonnie’s potty by the kerb when she’s caught short in the car is one of my specialities (needs-must), as well as wolf-whistling loudly in public spaces to get their attention. Strangely, they aren’t particularly bothered about the fact I write about them in these columns.

Slightly bruised by their casual list of my misdemeanours, I ask, “What about Dad, doesn’t he ever embarrass you?”

“Nah, Dad’s pretty cool.”

I give up.

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Get ready to apply for school places for September 2012

BONNIE wants to go to school. She’s only been in nursery part time for a year but has now decided the time has come to move onwards and upwards.

She can’t quite get her head around the fact she’s not old enough yet.

After all, some of her mates from nursery have donned their smart jumpers and headed off into the big wide world. So why hasn’t she?

We’re telling her gently that she’s not old enough yet, and that after the next summer holidays it will be time for school.

Yet at the same time we’re getting letters about applying for her place right now. Scary huh?

The applications process starts almost 12months in advance, with primary school preferences to be in by noon on January 16, 2012, and the even more imminent and controversial secondary places in by 5pm on October 31 this year.

If your child is turning 4 between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012, then you’ll need to fill in primary forms, by post or online.

If your child is in year 6 and turns 11 between the same dates, the you’ll be applying for secondary school about now.

I’ve done this process several times over now, including an appeal, and it doesn’t get less stressful. You just have to hope for the best.

Admittedly we’re now in the enviable situation of having ‘sibling link,’ or a brother or sister already in the schools we prefer, but I certainly wouldn’t assume that’s a free pass. In fact I know it isn’t. Every year we hear the stories of children ‘failing’ (inappropriate word, I know), to get into a school their sibling already attends, or twins being sent to different places.

The idea of parental ‘choice’ about school allocation has screwed up the whole system. It’s led to inequality and over-subscription, messed up the norms of catchment and community and in some cases caused irreparable damage to families.

The stark fact is, unless you have the cash to send them private, you have no choice. You can express a preference, but ultimately, it may be useless.

We’re a perfect bad example. Our sons all went to a primary school that wasn’t our nearest. Due to a complicated story involving us getting jobs in Northampton 13 years ago when we still lived in Bedford, our boys ended up at the school where they’d been to nursery.

Back then there were spaces. Now the same school is oversubscribed, and we’re living on the opposite side of town. Meanwhile, I know nothing about the school nearest to us, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Do we move Billy out of the school he’ll have attended for five years, away from his friends, the teachers he knows and the excellent after-school club? Do we take Bonnie away from her nursery pals?

So, get ready to visit the school open days, weigh up the pros and cons and fill in those forms. Then endure the agonising four months waiting for the decision.

The biggest test you’ll face is staying positive, keeping your anxious anticipation to yourself.

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Tears and tantrums (mostly mine): it’s uniform-buying week

WE’RE meant to be shopping for school uniform. I’m leafing through the endless racks of black trousers in BHS when I realise I’m talking to myself.

Two of the boys are across the shop wrestling over a tape measure while another and his sister have managed to climb on top of a Thomas the Tank Engine toddler ride in which they’ve already lost 50p.

Their coats and bags are strewn across the floor which other shoppers are having to step over. I shout. It’s all rather embarrassing.

One of the boys is ordered into the changing room laden with eight pairs of trousers in differing sizes, some of which are unhelpfully security tagged together in pairs, so when he emerges to show if a pair fits, he’s dragging its twin along like a bedraggled, dusty tail. None of them fit properly.

The shop assistant stares, unhelpfully, as I try to fold them back onto their hangers.

While another son grumpily enters the changing room, daughter decides she’s going to take every adult shoe off the rack and try them on. When this game is stopped she starts the wailing and flopping routine, refusing to walk or be carried.

Son emerges having decided the first pair of trousers he’s tried are fine and throws them into the basket. I look at the label: £16 for one pair. I send him back in with a £7 pair, knowing I’ll be spending most of the year sewing up hems and gussets wrecked by breaktime football. They fit. We buy two pairs. Then two more, cheaper, in M&S.

Here we go again then, one week to go before they’re back at school and the hell of uniform shopping is firmly upon us.

With three offspring in school, two of whom seem to grow every time they leave a room, it’s an expensive time of year – especially if you’ve just reduced your working hours for the holidays. I think this September’s uniform will have cost me over £300. And I’m a make-do-and-hand-me-down-bargain kinda mum.

It’s not just the cost, it’s the stress. I know you’ll tell me it would be a trillion times worse if I had three girls, but let me assure you, traipsing around the shops with bored and grumpy boys isn’t fun either.

I’d hoped that Dougie’s compulsory school uniform would last more than a year. It hasn’t. His blazer has a weird bleach mark across it, his tie is mutilated, his PE kit is either lost or too small. Along with Jed’s new kit, the official stuff is going to cost the best part of £200 when the shop opens this week.

Shirts are easier. Multipacks for boys are between £7-10 and Bill’s yellow polos cost a fiver for three. Job done.

But then there’s the annual trouser hell. Girls seem to have lots of styles and stretchy fabrics. Boys are stuck with flat front or pleated in stiff Teflon coated fabric. Two sizes – skinny or enormous.

Shoe shopping for our boys seems to have a basic formula.

The conversation usually goes:

Them: “I like these.”

Me: “They look like trainers. You aren’t allowed shoes that look like trainers.”

*repeat several times and get home empty-handed.

There have been some successes. A speculative TKMaxx run stocked us with rucksacks, coats and shoes for Jed. Dougie is still shoeless and Billy’s, bought at Easter, may have to last a little longer.

If you witness me having a nervous breakdown in a shoe shop later this week, keep walking, there’s nothing to see. . .

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Don’t hate me, but the NSB waiting list has come up trumps

IT was Dougie who brought me The Letter. Our second son, proffering the manilla envelope with a Northampton School for Boys franking mark. His school.

With just a week left before the summer holidays, he wondered if he was in trouble.

As previously detailed in these columns, we have three sons in three different schools around Northampton.

Our first-born, Jed, didn’t get his first choice of the ridiculously oversubscribed school for boys, and has attended Malcolm Arnold Academy-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity for the past two years.

Much to our surprise, Dougie, a year younger, did get into NSB, where he has spent the first year of his secondary education happily knee-deep in sport, more sport, testosterone and sport.

Meanwhile seven-year-old Billy is endeavouring to make his own mark, noisily, at the large urban primary school his two brothers attended before him.

Back to the letter: it wasn’t about Dougie – it was about Jed. It was offering him a Year 9 place at NSB to start in September as two boys in his age group have left.

To say it’s come as a shock is an understatement. We’d applied two years ago, and along with hundreds of other parents, had failed to get a place. We’d appealed, and while 11 appeals had been successful, ours hadn’t.

We were told we could join a waiting list, but warned that the likelihood a place coming up was very remote. Indeed we reasoned that having been forced to take 11 more pupils in than they wanted, the chances of a place becoming available was about as likely as Jeremy Clarkson buying an electric car and joining the Green Party.

Stubbornly, I put him on the waiting list anyway.

And then last week The Letter arrived.

Jed was understandably conflicted. Having settled well at MAA, made friends, worked out which teachers he liked, been given opportunities to tour the Olympic Park, have lunch with Boris Johnson, act as a mock lawyer in a real magistrates court, play bass guitar, argue politics with Tory sponsor David Ross and talk on the radio about his experiences of the new academy, he was now going to have to decide if he wanted to leave, at age 13. We told him to sleep on it.

It was Dougie who volunteered the first advice. Dougie, 12, who has spent his entire life being known as ‘Jed’s brother,’ who was pleased to be at NSB without his older sibling.

“You should take it,” he said. “Think of the sport. Think how mad you get when you can’t do the sport you want at MA. . . Plus I want everyone to refer to you as ‘Dougie’s brother.’”

We discussed the pros and cons of each school. And although he was grateful for those friends and teachers who’d encouraged him at MA, and would certainly miss having girls around, he was resolute: NSB had been his first choice school.

Their facilities, like it or not, are amazing and the standard of teaching is proven. The range of subjects offered at GCSE is wider and the discipline strict. We agreed that while we felt disloyal, MA still needed a few more years to settle and that NSB could simply offer Jed more now.

I have spent the last week feeling guilty at our luck. I’ve so many friends whose sons also didn’t get in, and have spent hours, and plenty of column inches, raging about the unfairness of NSBs refusal to have a catchment area. I still stand by that opinion. If fewer boys were being bused in from Bedford, Brackley, Oundle and upmarket villages, there would be more places for boys who actually live in and around Northampton. It is, after all, NORTHAMPTON School for Boys.

Ultimately, however much we want all schools to have the same facilities as NSB, making ‘parental choice’ a redundant concept, they don’t.

We don’t even know if we’ve done the right thing. You take the best chances you can for your children and hope it all works out in the end.

One thing I will miss though: Malcolm Arnold’s uniform is far nicer than NSB’s.

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Staying positive over secondary school admissions?

IF you have a child who is about to go up to secondary school in September, then this week is likely to be horribly nerve-wracking, and you have my complete sympathy.

This is the week the school place allocation letters go out (or if you can wait several hours for the county council computer to grind into action, you may find out online).

As detailed in previous episodes of these weekly ramblings, I have had two experiences of this so far. For one child we got our first choice, for the other, we didn’t.

You feel guilt when your child doesn’t get their first choice and guilt about everyone else when they do. But thankfully, both our boys seem to be getting on OK in their different schools, which have various pros and cons.

The whole system is a farce, but for the sake of our kids we have to make the best of it.

I can’t stop you being anxious, but I can tell you that the right thing for you to do is be positive around your child and not rant and rave about the school they may end up having to go to, where chances are, they may actually be happy and thrive.

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For those about to face the academy steamroller

I FEEL for the parents, staff and pupils of Weston Favell School. I really do. I’m sure my fellow parents of Malcolm Arnold-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity pupils do too.

For the last few years, we watched the chaos and disruption wreaked by the Academy steamroller as it did/didn’t/did turn our state secondary school in a disadvantaged, urban catchment area into, well, a school with a new head, a name and new uniform.

Now Weston Favell is going through the same débâcle, as its potential sponsors are named. At least Weston parents are being told straight-up: “You don’t have a choice about this, other than to state a preference for a sponsor.”

Organisations on the sponsor list include The David Ross Foundation, which already sponsors The Malcolm Arnold Academy and another in Grimsby, and E-ACT, whose director general, one-time Northampton School for Boys head Bruce Liddington, also wants to set up a “free school” east of the town. Other potential sponsors are Greenwood Dale School in Nottingham, Barnfield College, Bedford College, Hanover Foundation, Ormiston Trust, Priory Federation of Academies and ARK Schools.

Weston, by all accounts, seemed to be improving of late under their new head Betty Hasler, who told parents last week: “There is no choice not to be an academy. The Department of Education has made it very clear that we cannot stay as we are and if we do not choose are own sponsor then the Government will make the choice for us.”

Similarly, Unity’s previous head Mrs Gwynne had been well-liked and had started to turn the school around. But becoming a ‘new’ academy means a new headteacher is non-negotiable. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but this means Ms Hasler could be getting the boot(if she hadn’t already announced her intention to jump ship).

When Unity/Trinity became Malcolm Arnold Academy in September, I wrote that I would reserve judgement until the school had a chance to settle down. I’m nervously and impatiently standing by that statement.

After all, how do we parents really know what’s going on? We chuck our children through the gates, remind them about homework, wash their sports kit and and hope for the best. I get no feedback from my son who is 13 and only grunts.

At first, many promises were made. Malcolm Arnold Academy, under the David Ross Foundation , vowed to have a well-staffed school with better discipline and beneficial links with public schools.

We were also to be a music and maths specialist, but as far as I’m aware, the school still has no Head of Music (job adverts had stated the position would start in January, five months after the school opened). What I do hear, from fellow parents and staff, is that very little has really changed. There’s still a lack of consistency in teaching and discipline.

There are, however, new opportunities. Our usually mono-syllabic first-born used his gift of the gab to win the chance to have a tour of the Olympic stadium site and visit Mayor Boris at his London HQ. Apparently David Ross won the trip for a handful of his academy students in a charity raffle! Jed’s playing hockey – which he loves – thanks to the efforts of staff who have done a deal with Thomas Becket to share training. This week he went to the theatre to watch Private Peaceful. He’s also taking part in a schools competition to stage a mock Magistrate’s Court trial. All these things make his younger brother, who got into the over-subscribed Northampton School for Boys, green with envy.

The only advice I have for Weston’s anxious parents is: Don’t panic. Yes, it’s a pain to have your child’s education fiddled with at every turn. No, there’s not a lot you can do about it. All we can ever do as parents is to hope that the school does its absolute best to give your child every opportunity to fulfil his or her potential, and that we as parents find the time/money/enthusiasm to support them.

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The relief of not being caught up in the agony of school applications

THIS is the first time since 2007 we haven’t been wrapped up in the autumn stress-fest that is secondary school admission applications.

I can’t say I’m missing it.

If you have a child in Year Six, the final year of primary school, then you have to apply by November 1, at 5pm to get a place at school for next September.

Don’t imagine for a second that you will automatically get the school you want. That’s not how it works these days. I’m sure I’ve bored you enough over the years with my grumbles about catchment areas (and how ALL schools should give priority to families who live within three miles). I didn’t get first choice with son 1, appealed, lost, sent him to school that then closed and reopened as academy. A year later, son 2 applied and got a place at school that previously rejected us, under alleged ‘random selection.’ *sighs.

Son 2 was asked to turn up at his over-subscribed school to play rugby from 6pm-8.30pm (under floodlights). They don’t usually train at this time but I guess it looks good to prospective parents. I watched lines and lines of would-be pupils and their hopeful folks trudge around the playing fields in the dark, feeling utter sympathy, knowing that most of them will be disappointed next March when the places are allocated.

Don’t only visit the school you really want. You have to put down three choices, so visit at least three schools. Imagine how difficult it would be for your child, if they’ve been allocated a school they’ve never seen. Not many appeals are successful.

Be open-minded. Talk to other parents, make notes, and get a ‘gut-feeling’ about each place. Don’t look for faults at your ‘second-choice’ schools, and don’t ignore them at the one you’ve already decided you want.

Open days are running for a few weeks, and if you really can’t make their date, ring and ask if it’s possible to make an appointment before November 1.

Above all, take your child with you to the school. And listen when they tell you what they think. You may not agree, but it’s your child who will be spending the next seven years there.

n All open days are detailed in the admissions booklet you will have received with your application, or you can check online via the county council website.

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