In a bind

When Liz submitted this post, I couldn’t believe how timely it was – I could have written it myself, albeit with more ranting and CAPITAL LETTERS. I know from recent conversations with a lot of readers with young kids that it’s a highly contentious, relevant topic and I know that no one seems to have the answers. No one knows what the ‘right’ thing to do is to change this ridiculous system and so, as ever, we simply have to do what is right for ourselves. 

I have recently started going to church on Sunday mornings. I was christened as small child, got married in my local church but I have never really gone to church other than the usual weddings, funerals, christening and Christmas carols.

So what changed? The answer is simple, it consists on one word and It’s not something that I am entirely comfortable about – schools

The commuter town I live in has been subject to the most amazing baby boom over the past five or so years. One of the local hospitals closed the doors of its maternity wards to women from here as they were so overwhelmed

As it stands there are not currently enough primary school places for the year that my daughter will be in. The education authorities will obviously have to sort this out, but at the moment it’s not clear how or where

There is a primary school at the end of our road, about a 3 minute walk, and it is rated outstanding. We would love T to go there, convenient and high quality, why wouldn’t we? The only problem is that it’s a Church of England school. The number of children in the town means it can be picky about who gets a place, it has no catchment area,  admissions are based purely on church attendance in the two years before joining.

Our catchment school is roughly a 25 minute walk and is currently in special measures due to the poor quality of teaching there.

The 4 church schools within the town are so good, and sought after, that it has brought down the quality of the standard state schools. Such that people would rather not send their children to them.

And this is the bind…

Before I had T I was the person who would mock others who were snobby and preoccupied with what school they would send their children to. I went to a pretty third rate primary school and I did ok, so why would my daughter do any different?

I couldn’t understand the people going to church for the sake of school admissions. Didn’t they see that if they all just stopped this pretence then the church wouldn’t have a stronghold over the schools anymore? Everyone could then breathe again, happy that their child would get a good education. I wasn’t going to be part of this, perpetuating the problem.

Then one day, it was my daughter’s education I was talking about and it started to matter to me. I wish I was brave enough to say sod this system. It’s bullshit that you have to go to church to get a chance at decent schooling. However, I’m not sure that I want to take the risk. I want to be able to say that I gave T the best chance, and if that is going to church then so be it.

I still wouldn’t rule out sending T to our catchment school if it’s standards have improved by the time it comes to filling in the forms. But I don’t want it to be the only option open to us if things haven’t changed. So for now, I attending church.

In actual fact I’m actually enjoying going; that hour of peaceful reflection early on a Sunday morning. It also seems like there is a lovely sense of community there (I guess partly because it’s full of other families like us), which can only be a good thing to get involved with.

But seriously, there has got to be a better, more equitable way of having access to quality education hasn’t there?

Categories: Life Experience, Religion
18 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted July 28, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I have never been able to get my head around how the education and catchments have gone so very wrong. I grew up in Leeds, where schooling in the 1980s and 1990s was amongst the worst in England. My parents made the decision to do everything they could to send me to private school when my catchment high school made the headlines because of drug dealing and a 13% GCSE pass rate. I was lucky – moving house wasn’t a viable option, but selling the car, remortgaging the house and puttin me forward for scholarships was. I am so very glad that they did, despite the judgements I receive whenever I talk about my schooling.

    Now I live in Edinburgh, where about half of the city’s teenagers go to private schools and the state schools are known for being substandard in many parts of the city. Have we learned nothing in the last 20 years? Why has it got to the stage where people have to lie, scheme, bankrupt themselves or move house to get into a good school? I don’t know what the answer is, but it is worrying how much potential might be being lost.

  2. Gemma R
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I have long thought that this is simply part of the natural ebb and flow of church going, and, as you said, you actually really enjoy it once you’re there, and being a member of a church is so much more than just mass on a Sunday, it’s the community built up around it. Congregations at our church are very much families, dropping off once teenage years arrive (and in my catholic case, confirmations are out of the way), young couples looking to get married and then older people, who have retired.

    As for education, in my area they are building classrooms in the playgrounds of all the primary schools as there aren’t enough spaces to go round in the borough. It’s madness. New schools are desperately needed but there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to make this happen.

    • Liz
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Gemma, that’s really interesting – I figured the regular congregation would not be particularly happy about the families who are obviously there for a school place, but you are right this must be a big part of how churches get new people through their doors.

  3. Becca
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    We’ll be moving out of London pre schools but both husband and I have very different views. I’d pay for private school or spend every weekend at church if I had to, just to get Baby into the right school. Husband went to a totally dodgy school (30% GCSE pass rate) but is super bright and is doing ridiculously well in his chosen career. He’d do well anywhere though (one of THOSE types) where I definitely wouldn’t. He’s an idealist and wants to get involved with failing schools, become a governor and make changes from within. I think he’d be putting Baby on the altar of idealism. Despite the fact baby isn’t here yet, we’ve lomg discussed education as he is absolutely insistent that private school is not an option. No church pun intended.

    We’ve decided to pay a fortune for a house in a good catchment area as a compromise hence staying in London to earn more whilst we can.

    I do think that the MOST important thing is what parents do with their children outside of school hours though. School only forms a tiny part of education. A fact which becomes more apparent when you get to University and students with 5 A’s from some private/result focused schools flail around because they don’t know how to educate THEMSELVES and are used to being tutored for exam results rather than independent study skills.

  4. Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    As a child who went to an excellent CofE school, and now as an adult who flinches when anyone trying to press religion or the G-man on me – I can understand your frustrations. I used to sit through hours of assemblies murdering the hymns and snoozed during any trips to the village church during school. It was a brilliant school though, so full of community and pride. And they pushed me to do my 11+ and get a place at a grammar school in the next county. If my parents had put me in my catchment school, who didn’t do the 11+, I wouldn’t have got the GCSEs I did, nor ALevels, a good work ethic and red-brick uni place.
    So I agree, it’s bullshit. But, even though I’m the biggest non-believer, I’d still send my child and sit through the hours of sermons. Because I’d want them to have the same chances as me if that’s what it took.
    Basically I just wanted to say that you’re doing the RIGHT thing. It’s just a bloody ridiculous way you have to do it.

    • Liz
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Laura!

  5. Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    An unlucky situation for you guys, yet still fortunate in that you have the option of sucking it up and going, whereas if you had a different faith it would be impossible. Having said all that, I can see why voluntary controlled schools do it, they risk the core principles of the school being diluted in the scramble for places otherwise. Just crazy how much you have to do to get into a primary school at all these days.

    On that note, I am starting to worry that I haven’t even thought about all this stuff yet and freaked out by how many of you guys have… how do you find out your chances of getting in somewhere? Is moving down the road from the school you want your kids to go to (assuming they’re catchment operated) the only way of ensuring you get them in? We’re thinking of moving area before school starts and would hate to move house and STILL miss out for the sake of a few streets…


    • Liz
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      We are lucky that there are options, just like you say crazy that you have to jump through so many hoops- and that it ends up damaging the state schools as a result

  6. Becca
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    The LEA is the best place to start and the Ofsted reports. Then the school directly who can tell you catchment areas for the last few years. I know someone that lived opposite a school in Harpenden (as in 20 metres) and they still didn’t get in!

    Saying that re Ofsted, a local nursery here has been awarded outstanding for the last few inspections (including last year) but is now in special measures after they sent two children home with the wrong people. Error. So these things change like the wind!

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I’ve found three decent primaries in the area we want to move to – might just hedge my bets and move equidistant to them all…

      • Liz
        Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Yep, check the council website – our one has a school postcode finder thing to say which would be the auromatic one you get sent to. Then read the admissions policies of all the ones you are interested in to check the have no hidden catches on how it works! It’s a minefield!

  7. Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    The lack of equality of opportunity in the English education system really makes me angry. I went to a school that was distinctly average and I was lucky enough to do very well. I then transferred to a Catholic school for sixth form and the atmosphere and attitude was very different, one of expectation that every student would achieve as much as they could. Religion or not, there’s a reason why the Catholic school is the best in the area. But I wouldn’t have got in at Yr 7 – because I am not a Catholic. Conversely, my husband went to an excellent private school, and the difference in our schooling experience is miles apart in so many areas, both academic and otherwise.

    We moved from an area in North London where the schools are either top of the range excellent (ie selective) and impossible to get into because they don’t take local kids, they take the kids who pass the tests even if that kid is then travelling for two hours on three trains to get there. We now live in an area where most of the schools are currently outstanding (not selective and not a church school or free school in sight) and it makes me so so cross that (a) this is such a rare occurrence and (b) the government has no solution on the table save to sell the education system to large corporate chains and wealthy parents and tell them to open their own schools.

    Unfortunately, as a parent you have to do what you need to to give your child the start in life you want to give them – noone else will help with that. And while I have doubts about sending my child to a faith school when I’m not sure I support the religious education aspect, I did it myself for my A-levels and you have to play the game in front of you. For me and Mr F, that means building up our savings for a private school education – just in case. But while the government won’t seriously address the lack of equality in the education system, what else can you do?

  8. Fee
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t attend church to get Max into a certain school and having attended private primary school myself, I would be reluctant to go down that road even if we could afford it (a very long list of reasons why).

    We’re currently looking at moving areas as we live in a commuter town where the house prices have spiralled out of control and trying to find somewhere with accessible schools that wouldn’t mean us going to church or paying £10k per year is a high priority. Probably impossible but we’ll give it a try.

    It is madness that people are having to do these things to get their children into good schools but any solution seems unobtainable. Part of me thinks that if the majority are willing to go to church etc then it’s self-perpetuating but I can’t see a huge nationwide revolution amongst parents happening.

    • Liz
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Self-perpetuating – exactly! Everyone knows it, but it could only change if everyone made a stand at the same time, which seems pretty unlikely sadly.

      Good luck with the house location hunt!

  9. Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Schools were the main reason we moved. We cannot afford private education and the local schools where we lived were poor to average. We want more than that. So we paid over the odds for a house in the catchment for two excellent primaries (one c of e which is rated outstanding) and one of the best secondaries in the county. Most of the the excellent secondaries in Nottinghamshire are selective private schools.

    I was privately educated and loved it. There is a reason selective schools whether grammar or private do well, and there is a reason schools in our catchment do well. It’s just not very politically correct to say its because there is a vast majority of middle class educated professional parents bringing up their children here. But there we go. It seems to me that church schools do well because they too have entry standards. Moral bystanders and religious objectors aside, the parents that make the effort to attend church for their children’s education are also the kind of parents who do other things for their children’s education, like reading with them, taking them to the library and the countryside, to museums and encouraging them to take up musical instruments and drama. It’s one signial of a much deeper issue, as someone else raised, which is the education your children receive outside of school. If you want your children to be around others who also come from those households, in an environment that supports a culture of doing well, then do what you need to do. If you don’t care or do care deeply but have moral or religious objections then its not game over for your child. Far from it.

  10. ChirstyMac
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This is all so interesting. School catchment is something I have been very aware of for very different reasons to most of you. Our local primary is literally right across the road. And bloody good from what I’ve heard, to the point where the catchment last year was 300 metres. Seriously. And we are very much in that circle – you can’t miss the school run if you happen to be home between 8 & 9 or around 3:15!

    Where we live is a sprawl of mahoosive (5-6 bed £3mil odd) family houses and one road of flats: our road. What a merry-go-round it is! The flat below our has rented in 6-10 month stints since we moved in 3 years ago to families trying to get their kid into this school. Its a 50sq metre 1 bed flat and the family that have just moved out had THREE kids. They lived in each others pockets and drove each other made (we know: we could hear them!) for 6 months to get their son into the school (which they did) and have now moved back to their family home to be replaced by a new family doing the same. And by all accounts families like them seem to be the lucky ones?! Crazy.

  11. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I totally disagree that it needs to be lots of parents all at once making a move on this. I think this is a convenient excuse for middle class people not to do something they don’t really want to do but the fact of the matter is that if a small number of educated people start sending their kids to the under performing schools, they start to improve, prompting other parents to follow suit.

    Of course the government has a role to play but so do parents, either by going the extra mile with their kids or by being involved with the school and helping it to improve. How else is that going to happen unless parents who care about education share that responsibility. We all have a responsibility to those less able than us in society whether that’s via legal mechanisms like taxes or social ones like schooling.

    Rant over

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      I completely agree.

      Actually, I’m all for getting rid of schools which are selective – whether for religious reasons or through cost of fees, or examinations – and for getting rid of league tables. I don’t think this ‘choice’ in primary and secondary education does anyone any favours (pupils, teachers, parents, society), and actually quite a lot of those ‘choices’ are simply not available to quite a lot of people, due to their circumstances.

      But you don’t just learn in school. Parents really need to help their children to learn too, and encourage them. You don’t have to sit down and do homework with them. Kids learn all the time, but encouraging that knowledge and development is so important. Curiosity is good!

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