THE BLOG

No 'Choice' In School Place System For Unfortunate Few

14/06/2013 09:51 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 10:12 BST

It's landmark day - a major milestone. Tots are called pre-schoolers. Everything gears towards this. You picked four schools you wouldn't mind the apple of your eye attending for seven precious years. Three months later, you receive notification... WHERE? Texts arrive from your friends. Their children are going to St Peter's, which you wanted and where he goes to nursery.

We got an academy. It was not one of my four 'choices'. Mostly what worries me is we will walk four hours a day to get him there and back.

Aside from monotony and bleakness, he will be shattered. Kids are tired when they start reception, despite a marathon either side of a six-hour 'working day'. My toddler will spend up to four hours in her buggy, unable to walk safely along the main road.

This is not the Third World. I don't trek miles to reach dirty water for my offspring, hoping the benefits of hydration outweigh the risk of contamination! I live in middle-class St Albans, Hertfordshire, where mothers make organic houmous, so they can photograph it to put on Facebook.

I am not prepared to wait at a crowded bus stop, whilst my four-year-old tries to climb it, asking loud questions about funny folk next to us. Negotiating a buggy, a boy and a baby on to it, messing about with change, jostled by noisy intimidating teens... And no seat belts! It would be twenty journeys a week, over many years, increasing the likelihood of an accident. Buses are not reliable, cost money and I shouldn't have to.

I haven't had a full night's sleep for half a decade. I am not Mary Poppins. I am not perfect, I am not always sparky, I am not always fun. I regularly consider throwing away greasy pans to avoid scrubbing and most days have no chance to brush my hair, let alone wear make up.

By making this 'choice' for me, the county council force me to fight. I am too knackered and busy. I cannot reasonably home-school or afford private education. The 'sibling rule' affects my daughter so wherever my son ends up, will be our lot for ten years.

The weather is utterly unpredictable. An outing with little ones involves planning for every eventuality. I will be doing my packhorse pilgrimage hundreds of times a year, laden with sun hats/cream/shades, rain cover, wellies, waterproofs, medicine, Sophie the replaceable irreplaceable Giraffe (seven, so far)...

It just cannot be right. Sometimes women are pregnant or sick. More often than not, kids have coughs and colds. Not the sort of ill that ordinarily keeps you off but the kind making everything much more annoying. Getting grumpy rug-rats ready can be a struggle. Nobody would choose 240 minutes of hiking! It will affect attendance and put pressure on mums.

Preparation is key to a happy smooth transition. Soon, his peers will visit the reception class to meet their new teacher. We are in the under five percent who got none of our choices. County wide, 95 percent of families were allocated a place at one of their four chosen schools. Almost 85 percent got their favourite!

They seem to be making assumptions every parent has access to four wheels. My husband leaves for work in our 'budget' vehicle (read: banger) before 6am. Where we live, parking 'police' ticket cars without permits. Usually we can't find a space for one car and could not obtain a second permit.

Dentist, doctor and hair appointments will be difficult to fit in - miles in the opposite direction, because the school we have been 'given' is nowhere near central. We live in town beside the city train station, not in a rural spot or isolated village. The school is not close to anywhere we might attend for medical reasons, leisure or social engagements.

Council admission bods say they don't allocate based on these factors, and are within their rights. Even if it wasn't your first choice, second, third or fourth - even if it is fifteenth 'nearest', it's tough! Their online school distance checker facility stops at ten furthest, as if even their website recognizes that it would never be relevant.

There's a right of appeal. It almost certainly won't be successful. 'Winning' appeals are ones arguing the decision was wrong according to policy. That's like saying you can take someone to court, as long as you prove the whole judicial system is flawed. Exhausted Mummy against The Man. I can't prepare my son, as we won't know an outcome for months and the process can run into the autumn term.

I feel defeated before I begin. Which is what they want. To stick us somewhere inconvenient at best, impossible at worst. And then hope we shut up. Well I won't shut up. One day I will need to work 'properly' and won't be able to if he goes there.

"Just think how fit you will be", several Other Mothers guffaw. I already am! Your posterior has not stopping jiggling, since you arrived at these gates. You live six yards away. I'm eight and a half stone and spend two hours daily, pushing a pram. You got your chosen school but I am much, much thinner!

I envision a grey timeline of us, walking forever, whilst other children have sunshine-filled picnics on gingham rugs, as bluebirds sing cheerfully around their mummies' Disney-neat bobs. His friends would be a two-hour round trip away. He will miss out on a quality of life - walking or too tired. It will massively impinge on our overall wellbeing and happiness and is not remotely fair.

When I was young , it was given: we would go to the nearest school. I never thought I would have to battle. I suggest a playground mothers' arm-wrestle. The top thirty win a place. It is clearly more sensible than the current system.