In which I basically go on a bit about the problem of finding schools as a private renter

It had been particularly bad morning. A morning made all the worse by running a bit late, having to contend with very heavy rain and walking against a tide of parents and children trying to get to the school 4 doors away from my house while I was trying to get my child to her school 25 minutes’ walk away. It was difficult but in fact my school drop off and pick up nightmares get worse than this. The daughter I was taking to school on the morning in question goes 25 minutes in one direction but my other daughter has to be taken on a 25 minute walk the other way to get to her school. They are both in primary school, just not the same one.

I’d be lying if I claimed not to be bothered by this. On the contrary, I’m massively bothered. Not because I am unhappy with either of the schools because I’m not. They are quite different to one another but do an equally good job with my girls. I am not like a new neighbour who admits openly to having bought a house in this road only to be in a better position to get her son into the massively oversubscribed almost-as-good-as-a-private-school-and-a-whole-lot-cheaper OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ school located here. I am really not like that. However, I do feel it to be absurd that I am unable to find a place in this school when I live so close. I’m sure that didn’t happen in the good old days.

It doesn’t have to happen now either. I have an acquaintance who thinking of moving with her family to France, visited the local school to enquire how she would go about finding a place there for her children should the move take place. The answer, delightfully simple amounted to: just bring your children here for school when you’ve moved. ‘What if you don’t have enough space in the class? ‘asked my friend. ‘Then we will open another’, came the answer.

Coming from the UK system means my friend is used to the complexities of finding a school place mid-year. It really isn’t easy. In my case, from being informed of my landlord’s intention to sell to my being in a new town and new house took 4 weeks. In that 4 weeks I had to find the house; apply for it; wait for the checks to go through; be accepted; wait for the right people to be around to draw up the contract; and arrange a time to sign the contract. It wasn’t until the contract was complete that the LEA would look to placing my children. It was pretty much the last item on the list when I wanted it to be the first. You can’t find a school without a signed contract, so you can’t take a sensible approach to finding an education for your children like, find a school with places and then locate a house reasonably nearby. You just have to get the house then hope. It is chaotic and ironically imposed by a system that notes the negative effects of chaotic lifestyles on those in them. The system made my life chaotic and left the education of my children to fate.

Stories abound on this topic. A friend has a tenant who on relocating mid-year found their 3 children were offered places at different schools and so far away from home that they were eligible for taxis to and from them. They were advised (not by the LEA or schools) that if they turned down the schools they felt were too far or too widely spread and chose to home school instead then their children would become a priority to place. Sure enough, having declared an intention to home school, 2 places were found in one school much closer to home. The third, it must be said, is still being home-schooled and waiting for a suitable place.

A couple of issues strike me as being unfair in the scenario above. 1. The overarching difficulty of moving to a new place and finding schools nearby quickly 2. Knowing how the system works and being confident enough to take it on is not a possibility for all and 3. Not everyone is in a position to be able to stay at home and give their children a home school education even for the shortest time.

That upsets me. I take a fairly pragmatic approach to the schooling my children receive. I am not overly swayed by OFSTED. I feel my children have enough support from home to do their best wherever they end up school-wise. However, I do feel strongly that at primary level in particular it is important for children to live in the same area as their school friends and to be a part of their communities. So this afternoon when I called my local education department to discuss the issue of my children being in separate schools and the impracticality of that, I was depressed to be told that my best bet would be to apply for new schools completely out of this area where I would have a greater chance of getting the girls into the same school. So the problem of a nightmare school run would be resolved but I would have to remove them from the schools they’ve attended and settled into since March and put them into a school in an area outside of the town which they will reach by taxi every day. Is that really the only possible solution here? Apparently the problem is that there are too many primary school children and just not enough places. If only we could be more like the French school I mentioned earlier. Need more capacity; open another class.

It upsets me on another level. I feel my children are disadvantaged by the lack of care and attention paid to their placement in school. Why am I not allowed the same access to choice for education because of the fact I privately rent and that is likely to result in more frequent moves than a homeowner. I’d love it to be different but I have no control over that as I am simply unable to get a mortgage. I have to rent and I have to rent with the current set of rules and regulations which do not take full account of my needs in this tenure. Why are the decisions I did make about my children’s education and well-being on the explicit understanding that we were long-term tenants with a family, so easily smashed to pieces when the landlord changes his mind? His actions impacted dramatically on the lives of my children. Grades slipped; confidence fell; security was diminished. All of these factors could negatively influence their educational outcomes in the long run. Perhaps I should sue on their behalf for damages!

And so, the bigger picture is that housing is becoming less secure for a larger proportion of the population. Educational choices and outcomes are impacted upon and compromised by having to move. Being schooled in the area in which you live particularly at primary level must be of benefit and is just really nice for children: seeing their friends in the park, the library or the supermarket. It makes us feel part of a community. Private renters with school aged children need the guarantees of longer tenancies which allow a child to see through their education fully in one school. When it does become necessary to move, in order to limit the negative impact on children, local education authorities, schools and letting agents/landlords could work more closely together to make the transition a little smoother and the procedures more ‘joined up.’ And how I wish we could go back to a system where children go to their local school automatically so I didn’t have to face any more of those mammoth walks in torrential rain.

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2 thoughts on “In which I basically go on a bit about the problem of finding schools as a private renter

  1. God, how I sympathise, Fiona. When we moved from our last private rental to our current one, about 16 months ago, we had to wait 8 months for places for our primary age twins in a local school. During that time, we had an atrocious commute, which involved either two buses or a bus and a train though SE London with hordes of sometimes aggressive commuters, so two awful journeys totalling at least 1h30 a day for them, and four journeys (3 hours a day) for me. I will never forget how tired my sons were throughout this period and how frazzled I felt. This also meant extra transport costs of around £100 month (this is London…). The very week were were finally offered places in a school 10 mns (walk) away, I was seriously thinking of homeschooling them (again, this had already happened a couple of years earlier). The day I got the call from the council, then the school, I actually sobbed, the relief was so immense. For the boys to be able to walk to school, see their classmates outside of school in the local park, or just on the streets around here, has literally changed our life. Their dad and I still live in fear, as we know the situation could change again overnight should our landlord decide to make us leave or should our circumstances mean we can no longer afford the rent, but at least for now, we can almost feel like we are part of a community.
    Your situation makes me so angry. It simply should not happen.

  2. My experience pales in comparison. What a nightmare. So unfair and so unnecessary. Glad you have good places now but sympathise with the fear that it could all change again in the blink of an eye.

    Thanks for your comment-it’s really important for people to talk about these experiences.

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