“So which school are you thinking about?…” the friendly woman chirped at me. “Sorry?” I quipped back in disbelief. I felt my cheeks tingle and a shiver prickle my spine. I looked down at my beautiful, tiny, 8 week old baby. It hurt even thinking he would soon grow too big for me to cradle; let alone think of him going to school! I was still in a lovely new-born daze; swirls of intense love, pride and tiredness constantly circulated my body.
I had decided to try out a local mummy and baby meeting that morning and whilst I had pre-empted the friendly conversation and free digestives I was totally unprepared for questions about schooling. I assumed talk would focus on the basics like winding and sleep deprivation, I certainly wasn’t prepared for actual thinking. I wanted to remain here, in the present, clutching my new baby, not thinking about the future and waving him off at the school gates.
I concluded (in my head of course) that this woman must be mad. So I stared back at her blankly, creating an unavoidable awkward moment until another woman leant in and said, “I have just registered for XX”. I was astounded by the normality in her tone. She was cradling an even smaller bundle than me and already she had his future years mapped out. Was she mad too? What group was this again? Had I got the wrong day? Or was this normal?
As the two ladies chatted on I listen intently. Questions and comments flew back and forth as they expertly debated the pros and cons of the local schools. Which catchment are you in? Have you put his name down for the prep school? You’ll have to go to church every week if you choose St Mary’s…Are you prepping her for the 4+? It was an eye opener to say the least.
We were in the privileged position to be able to afford independent education, but the demands and challenges of selecting a school or indeed the selection process hadn’t even occurred to me. How do I select the right school for my child? I don’t even know his character yet! How does an assessment of a 3 or 4 year old work?
I spent feeding times on my iPhone googling and engaging with other mums; getting to grips with the demands of living in Greater London and the availability, or lack of, in independent education. I discovered the process of registering for selective and non-selective schools varied greatly so understanding each unique process as well as the ethos of the school itself took a significant amount of time. Just on this basis, I began to understand why this process began so early on in the child’s life. There was a lot to learn and it is not a decision to rush. Those women at the meeting were not being neurotic or premature, they did not want to gloss over the special baby days, they were simply doing what they had to in order to secure them their top choices for education.
Some mothers online said they had registered for independent schools even though they were hoping to get a place in their local state school. They were using this process as an assurance that their child would get a place in a good school within a timely location. Nowadays you are not guaranteed a place in your local school just because you are in the catchment area. Many are now too oversubscribed for this. So it seemed to me, at lease by registering, I could have more of a choice over my boy’s future education.
It was essential to register my child for the various non-selective (my choice) independent schools immediately at an administration cost of around £50. This did not in anyway promise a place, it simply registered your interest. Through my research of the local independant schools I found many different rules in terms of registration and acceptance; some worked on a first come first served basis, some gave siblings priority, some considered the balance of gender and birthdate across the year, some only accepted applications a year before entry, some started children at 2 or 3 with the intention to nurture and integrate students from an early age, some accepted registration on the day the baby was born….one I heard of even accepted registration from unborn babies! Some processed applications monthly which meant if your child is born late in the month they could miss out on a place if the allocated monthly places have gone already! This brought to mind an article that the Daily Mail ran in 2007 entitled ‘Mothers time their caesarean to get baby into school’. At the time I thought it was laughable, now I saw it had a very real and quite terrifying edge to it. Some selective schools like to meet the children prior to admission and some use the 4+ assessment to award their places. Phew!
It dawned on me that we are living an area and indeed an era where public services are aching with demand, so why would the independent school sector be any different? Due to this demand we have to act early to provide at least some security in terms of at least being registered at a school. This by no means concretes your babies educational future; you may change your mind in the future, they may not be suited to a particular school and so on, but early registration seems pivotal in giving some educational assurance to those applying to independent schools.