Tag Archives: primary school

School applications – with 400 extra applications and over 400 not getting a first, second or third choice place – councils need to do the maths

IT LOOKS like a huge amount of people didn’t get their children into their nearest primary school this year, and will have to start the soul-sapping job of appealing.

Allocations for secondary places always cause problems, but the primary system is now heaving under the weight of requests. There were over 400 more applications than last year.

The number who did not get ANY of their three choices was 476.

That’s a whole school’s worth of reception-age kids, or roughly 15 class-fulls.

I feel particularly for those who live near a school and haven’t got their eldest child in because they don’t already have a child in the system. But there’s no arguing with the priority for sibling link. It would be heartbreaking, let alone a logistical nightmare, to drop a four-year old off at one school and bus across town to get a six-year-old to school somewhere else.

I know that sounds biased because all four of our offspring have been at the same school since our eldest got a place ten years ago. But I can’t apologise for that. Back then the school wasn’t oversubscribed, as very few schools were. Now it has a waiting list. It is also one of the few that has a nursery and afterschool attached, which means people further away have to choose it.

The plain fact is that the county council has a responsibility to find places for all children and they knew full well the population was rising. They are allowing new houses to be built which are meant to attract families. But new schools are not being built as swiftly as new housing developments.

Since the move from the middle and upper school system almost a decade ago, many schools were closed down, as pupils were crammed into the remodelled primary and secondary schools. The end result is that there simply aren’t enough primary schools in Northampton. There are plenty rotting away in a state of desperate disrepair waiting to be sold, but not enough to house children nearby.

There are lists of all the schools in the county on the county council’s website. They break down how many places were allocated by what criteria. In Northampton there are only two schools that are marked as having places left. The village schools have LOADS with places. But how many families with young kids can afford to move to a village? How long before a village school with spare places is deemed uneconomical and closed too?

Idiotic and largely misleading league tables, coupled with the maddening fiction of ‘parental choice,’ and financial cuts that are seeing fewer teachers employed when there should be more, are all having a detrimental effect on education as a whole.

Investment in nursery places is great but what if there’s nowhere to teach them locally when they actually get to compulsory schooling? Why give parents the chance to go out to work if they’ll have to give up that job in order to get their children to a school half and hour’s drive away? It’s a ridiculous situation.

It is essential that you look at the county council website to work out what to do next, as different schools have different procedures.

If you didn’t get ANY of your choice, I would advise that you ring your three schools and get on their waiting list. You may find that a school has held back places for appeals, and most importantly, when everyone responds to their allocations, more places become available. Which makes it very important that you respond QUICKLY to accept a place if you DID get what you wanted.

Any extra places are re-allocated on May 30, June 20 and July 16, or you may find you get a call literally at the last-minute. A friend’s son had actually been bought uniform for a school further away and the day before term started she was told a place had come up at her nearest.

You should also contact your local councilor, because they should be the ones working to get more schools built-in this town, not sitting back while the weeds and wildlife take over the ones the politicians chose to close.


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Why a scar on a girl’s face is different to a boy’s

OUR boys are always nursing some injury or another – stop! Don’t ring social services, they are boys, and they play sport.

I wouldn’t want to generalise and say boys get more scrapes than girls, but having three sons one after another it seemed from the moment they could walk they were scraping knees and elbows. While we’ve been lucky enough so far (*touches wood) to avoid any broken bones, Jed has a large scar on his elbow plus one on his eyelid, Dougie has several on his knees, plus one on his eye, and Billy Whizz seems to be attempting at every opportunity to get a scar of his own.

But while the boisterous boys will expend their energy on the rugby pitch, their self-appointed princess of a sister has her own daredevil streak and is constantly trying to climb things that shouldn’t be climbed or stand on tall objects.

However it was rugby that gave her a major cut recently, not playing it yet, but falling flat on her face while we were watching Dougie play. For some reason she didn’t put her hands out to stop herself and ended up with a cut on her nose and a grazed chin and lip.

While I was obviously concerned, I found myself fussing about potential scarring, and guilty that I was more worried about our daughter having a scar than I’d been about our sons. Boys can wear scars and scabs with pride. Girls get neurotic and self-conscious about them. Especially when they are right in the middle of your nose.

She’s not bothered, although when I said she mustn’t pick at it or she’d get a scar on her nose, she was instantly concerned. I’d forgotten that to a four-year old, Scar is the baddie in the Lion King . .

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Are you feeling sleepy?

SPRING is here and we’ve been blessed with some suitably warm weather in which to enjoy our extra hour of daylight, but for parents this comes at a cost.

Not only do we have to drag ourselves out of bed having lost an hour at the weekend, but our offsprings’ body clocks are all over the place too.

Anyone with teenagers will know how tough it is to wake them from their blissful slumber (or stinky pit, as it’s known in our house) on any given school day. But take an hour off them and everything can get a little shoutier. We’re extra tired because we didn’t go to bed early enough ourselves; they’re extra tired because they didn’t want to go to bed on time, yet alone early, and probably lay in bed texting into the early hours.

The smaller ones are usually up with the lark anyway – that’s the eight and four-year-olds in our house – but even they struggle with the clocks going forward and are decidedly grumpier than usual. And those of you with babies will already be battling with routines without another spanner being thrown into the works.

Poor Bloke and little Bill were on the early shift on Sunday, getting to Long Buckby by 9.15am (8.15am really) for a minis’ rugby tournament.

Meanwhile I was at home with the other three, and while I didn’t oversleep, I did forget that I’d only turned half the house’s many clocks forward the night before and hence only realised the older boys’ rugby training had started too late to do anything about it.

There’s one man responsible for our weird habit of mucking about with time, and his name was William Willett, and he died a year before his big idea actually came into law in 1916.

He was a builder living in Kent who worked out that the nation was sleeping through the lighter hours of the summer and that everyone would be happier and more productive if we gradually moved time forward by 20 minutes each Sunday in April. Then time would be ‘given back’ the same amount each Sunday in September.

His proposal was ridiculed but a Daylight Saving Bill was introduced to parliament in 1909, but was batted away before war broke out in 1914.

However, in 1916 the bill was passed as a temporary wartime ‘measure of economy’, in Britain and a week later in most of Europe, although William didn’t live to see his dream become a reality.

Most countries then abandoned the idea after the war, but then saw the positives it brought and reintroduced it.

You may, like me, have wondered why they don’t just stick with Daylight Saving Time, or British Standard Time (BST); the lighter-houred time we are in now, all year round, therefore skipping the dismal darkness that comes after October 28. Apparently they tried it, between 1968 and 1971, to fall in line with other European countries with whom we did much of our trade.

This was abandoned in 1972 because children in Scotland, by virtue of their more northerly location, were having to go to school in the dark. This is an argument still voiced today, and while many might argue that Scotland could put the clocks back and forward on its own, it is deemed too ridiculous to have to change time zones just to move across the border in part of the UK.

So for now we’ll have to make the most of those longer days and wait for our body clocks to re-sync. Which reminds me, I must go and take Bonnie for her around-about-midnight visit to the loo because she’s such a deep sleeper there’s no clock that could rouse her . . .

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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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Primary school parking police need to be checking for more than just a week

I SEE the police are being called in to target one school a week to ‘crack down on’ dangerous and inconsiderate parking by parents.

Primary schools attract spectacular examples of bad driving each morning, from blocking driveways and parking on corners to running red lights and dangerous speeding.

While the secondary schools have their issues, it tends to be over faster, as you aren’t expected to deliver them to their classroom door. (There have been mornings I’d have been happy to open the car door and just tip my uncooperative teens into the road.)

But unless the police patrol all year, rather than one week, things won’t change much in the long term.

Stupid lazy parking does have consequences. At a Northampton rugby club recently, one lad was seriously injured and an ambulance was called.

Despite many previous pleas and warnings, someone had parked their car blocking an area reserved for emergency access. The ambulance had to reverse and detour across fields, which caused a delay getting to an already distressed child.

You might think ‘I’ll only be a minute,’ but that could literally be a matter of life or death for someone else. So don’t do it.

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Classroom jargon is not helping pupils’ success criteria

DO your children discuss their Success Criteria with you? Are you fully aware of their Learning Objectives? How about their ELS?

Is it right that teachers are talking to six-year-olds using management speak which most parents don’t understand, yet alone their kids?

It’s truly astonishing how teachers are being told to talk to our children. It actually makes me really cross.

For those of you who haven’t had to darken the doors of a primary school for some decades, let me explain.

School has always had a reputation for the blah, blah, blah. Even the most conscientious of swots must have drifted off when certain teachers forgot how to have a normal conversation with their fellow human beings.

But now even good teachers are trotting out phrases like ‘going forward’ and ‘achieving targets.’ It’s like they’ve been brainwashed.

And it’s having a knock-on effect – or should I say – a third-generation projection.

I teach university students and with very few exceptions, even those with A-grade A Levels cannot express themselves clearly in writing.

I’m not sure anyone could pinpoint when the jargon of modern teaching started infecting state-school classrooms.

It’s as if somewhere in the late 90s, a ‘consultant educator,’ with no grasp on reality, vomited all the management phrases they knew into a curriculum manual. A manual which should have stayed in the staffroom.

My first foray back into a primary school classroom in two decades came when I attended open days for Jed.

First, there seemed to be so many adults in the class. Teaching assistants, one-to-one carers, and if you’re lucky, a full-time teacher.

Second, their work didn’t appeared to get corrected. However, they did have little abbreviations like ‘LO’ written at the top of each page. Weird.

Eventually I mustered the courage to reveal to my son that despite telling him otherwise, I didn’t actually know everything:

“What’s ‘LO’ mean?” I asked.

“It’s the thing you have to have done by the end of the lesson.”

“Yes, but what does it stand for?”

“Er, I think it’s Learning Objective.”

“OK. Well, what’s an objective? What does the word mean?”

“. . . Er, I dunno. Can I go and watch Bob The Builder now?”

This highly-dramatised discussion with six-year-old Jed happened more than half his life ago.

But I had the same kind of ‘interface’ last week with Billy, aged 7. Only instead of Bob the Builder he’d have requested Spongebob Squarepants. Or Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The catalyst for my fresh bewilderment was ‘open-day’ at Billy’s primary school. A school I like very much, and which has done pretty well by my offspring so far.

We parents were given a leaflet with “Questions to Ask Your Child:”

They included phrases like What are you learning about in ELS? (I’ll translate in brackets: ELS = Early Learning Skills).

How do you use VCOP? (VCOP is the way they are told to write a sentence using Vocabulary. Connectives. Openers. Punctuation).

How do Success Criteria help you? (I’m not making this up)

When and how do you use your targets? (Like salesmen, five-year-olds have Targets, to be discussed with parents at ‘Termly Learning Conferences’ (which used to be called parents’ evenings) You even have to sign a ‘contract’)

The children at Open Day were very well-behaved and read aloud about all of the above jargon, plus ‘Core Values’ and the ‘Fish Wish’ (Fun. Involvement. Show. Help)

I asked a few children, including my own, if they could explain some of the phrases. Some of them recited, parrot-fashion, what had been on the board. Then I asked them to tell me what the words actually meant, and they didn’t know.

I’m all for expanding vocabulary, but if you are going to spout this nonsense at kids, you should explain what the ruddy words MEAN.

We should worry. Good schools are losing their ‘core values’ by relying on utter, utter gibberish. They accused previous generations for teaching by rote because we learned rhymes like ‘Every name is called a noun’ and ‘I before E except after C’ ? At least it was useful.

This management speak is absurd, meaningless, empty and misleading in adult working life, so why on earth are we endorsing it in schools?

I’m not being a pedant. Language does need to evolve to survive, but sloppy clichés and meaningless verbal noise do not make you clever. They make you annoying.

Can’t anyone just speak plainly any more? Or is that just blue-sky thinking?

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