No school place in Haringey? Try homeschooling. That's what I was told by Haringey Council when my application for a reception place left my daughter without a school.
It’s been more than three weeks since the start of the new term. While everyone we know is proudly taking their children to school in their crisp new uniforms, my four-year-old daughter is stuck at home, stuck in limbo without a school place and without any idea of when she might get one.
We knew applying for a reception place was a fraught and competitive process, with rumours of parents using second properties to put in multiple applications, others renting in a catchment area, or families attending church to get the all-important signature from a priest or vicar that would guarantee them a place in a faith school.
Our position on the various school waiting lists varies from 4th to 46th, and none of the schools in question are more than a mile from where we live. We have sought the advice of councillors, schools governors and other parents, all of whom suggested that there would be enough movement at the start of term to get a place with children not turning up, and places becoming free. One friend told us of a family called by the council offering a place the night before term started. We’re still waiting for the phone to ring with good news.
Haringey prepared us for the worst. We were told early on that our best bet would be home-schooling, because pressure on places this year was so high. Last year it was reported that more than 30 children were without places in reception in Haringey and this year, we were told, things are even worse.
One of the things that I have found hardest to deal with is my total inability to do anything to resolve the problem. Our fate lies in the hands of Haringey. I have been in touch with other mothers in the same position elsewhere in London and in Buckinghamshire, where the pressure on places is equally high. They feel equally paralysed. One mother in Brent described the heart-break of having to tell her daughter she wouldn’t be going to school, when all her friends had places. She feels their lives are on hold while they wait along with around 70 other families for a reception place. She is considering quitting her job to look after her daughter until she finds a place.
Another mother said she feels as though she has let her daughter down by not being able to get her into school. We all fear having to travel across town to get to school, but I have been told that LEAs would rather pay for transport for a child to cross London than provide another teacher or class in an oversubscribed area. Age four is way too young to become a commuter.
Sympathetic council staff have suggested there simply aren’t enough school places in the right locations. It is, no doubt, a complex business, tracking the number of children approaching school age, taking into account those that might leave or move into an area, or those that might choose to go private. There has to be a better way of ensuring that all our children get the chance to start their education without this horrific overlay of anxiety and disappointment. I have lived in Haringey since 2007 and in London since 1998. Friends suggest I should withhold my council tax until we get the education services we are paying for, but I doubt that will help.
We have ceased to talk about the problem in front of my daughter, although the subject dominates our conversations after she’s gone to bed. Our complaint is now lodged with the Local Government Ombudsman. My four year old daughter discussed the situation with her six year old cousin at the weekend – they decided it was outrageous, and that they should write a letter. We have written to everyone we can think of and we await the LGO’s decision.