Like many parents across the country, we are currently waiting to find out which school has a place for our child. I have written before about the fact that we don’t feel our local school is the best place for her, and questioned whether we really have the right to choose a school.
What are your options if you are unhappy with the school place your child is offered?
The right to an education is fundamental here in the UK and I will never forget how lucky my children are to have that opportunity. But I also have the right to withdraw my children from formal education – or not to send them to school in the first place.
Our local school is undoubtedly not the right place for my daughter. She is a bright, articulate child who loves her pre-school and is clamouring to learn everything from everyone. She is polite and kind and gets along well with her peers and wants to be friends with them all.
Libby is also a child who has had problems in the past with her eyes and now faces life in two dimensions, with her sight corrected by glasses. This has caused her to be slightly behind in her physical development, very clumsy and totally unable to catch a ball.
We have already had an issue with some girls being unkind to her. This was despite their parents being nearby, as they chose to turn a blind eye. Libby didn’t react well to the situation, she is so kind and gentle and had no idea how to stick up for herself. Instead she repeatedly tried to join in their games and had no understanding of why she was constantly being rejected.Our local school has a bad record when it comes to bullying. Two different people have told us that their child has come home from school with bruises that it transpired had been caused by other children. The school hadn’t made them aware, because they hadn’t seen it happen.
I have dutifully applied to three schools. They are all a short drive from our house, we don’t fall into the catchment area for any of them. Each was under-subscribed last year, but they are all small, caring environments that are pro-active in dealing with bullying. They promote kindness, assist children to fit in and offer extra help to those who need it.
But the reality is, we are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to being awarded a place at any of these schools. So when the horrendous, heart-wrenching email comes in a couple of weeks time, telling me that my beautiful daughter can only go to a school that I know will break her physically, emotionally and academically, what will I do then?
The one thing I won’t do is to pack her off on her first morning to a place that I feel will be detrimental to her learning, development and confidence. You can never undo a bad experience. And when it comes to education, developing negativity towards learning early on is an issue that might never be resolved.
So, we’ve thought long and hard about our options. Home education is possible in theory. I work from home and have no intention of going back to working outside of the home in the near future. In fact it is a given that Libby will be home-educated at some point, as we intend to spend a year travelling as a family in due course. But at the moment, this wouldn’t be the right option for Libby.
Despite being young in her academic year, Libby has been ready to start school for quite some time. She relishes the opportunity to learn and to socialise and she literally can’t wait to get going. This isn’t a child that would flourish in a one to one environment with me as her teacher. Whilst I know we can get involved in local groups so that she has company, I am not the right person to teach her.
So the other option is private education. If I upped my workload dramatically, this would be an option for us. But this would, in my opinion, be detrimental to Lia. For her whole little life, she has tagged along with her sister. Happy as can be, but with no one on one attention at all. She will be starting nursery one morning a week next week but for now, that’s enough.
Lia needs to be with me. She needs me to have time to show her how to draw, recognise letters and write her name. She doesn’t need to be in full time nursery just to allow me to earn enough to pay for private education.
The other option
So what else can we do? Well a little while ago, I read a Guardian article saying that parents were using free nursery places for private schooling. And I realised that every three and four year old was entitled to a free nursery place – not just those that are technically of pre-school age. So being young in her year, Libby will be entitled to that free place for the best part of another academic year from September. And the funding can be used for nursery, childcare or even private education.
And we are also entitled to put her on the waiting list for local schools, so that should a place become available at any time, it may be allocated to her. So this is exactly what we intend to do. If we are unable to find a place at a school we are happy with, then Libby will continue at her private nursery in September. She has been attending the same nursery since starting one morning a week just before she turned two. And she loves it.
She will only go in the afternoons as she is now. And as soon as a place becomes available, she will start school. In a way, I will feel that I will be holding her back. She is ready for full days at school, she can’t wait for the structure and the learning. But in her current nursery, she is happy. And when it comes down to it, her happiness is – and will always be – the only thing that really matters.