I washed the vicar’s surplice for years, but my son still didn’t get a school place. It’s so unfair.

Janet Downs's picture
My husband and I spent years planning ahead. Even before our nuptials we decided to marry in a parish church somewhere. We chose one in the catchment area of a Voluntary Aided CofE primary school (it had to be VA, they control their own admissions – unlike Voluntary Controlled schools which have to accept anyone) and bought a house there.

By the time our son was born we were well-known in church circles. We became Confirmed and took Communion once a month (at least, one of us did although I must confess we had a few arguments about whose turn it was). We took turns looking after toddlers in the crèche during services (frankly, I preferred that to sitting through interminable sermons). My husband took up bell-ringing while I joined the cleaning rota and washed the vicar’s surplice. We did this for years until the time came for us to apply for a place.

We were sure our sacrifices would pay off. Our confidence increased when the school became an academy giving it more control over its admissions.

But we were turned down! The new vicar went to Synod in 2012. Nothing alarming in that, we thought. But alarm bells should have rung. Apparently, the vicar was reminded that a “Christian ethos” meant educating all children especially the vulnerable and the excluded.

The vicar persuaded the academy Trustees to change the school’s admission policy and give priority to pupils who attract the Pupil Premium. In our ignorance we though it meant putting “premium” pupils first, pupils with parents like us whose commitment put us in the Premier League.

But we learned to our cost this was not so. It meant the school gave priority to disadvantaged children. Now I’ve nothing against disadvantaged children as long as they know their place. And, frankly, that’s not in the same school as mine who’ve been brought up properly.

But all is not lost. We put our son into pre-prep while considering our options. We’ve discovered there’s a good RC secondary school within travelling distance. We’ve checked its Admission Criteria: the school gives points for church attendance and taking part in other church duties. All we have to do is make sure the duties have some sort of “liturgical” significance: pew polishing is out but flower arranging is in.

So we’ve an appointment to see Father Patrick tomorrow about being received into the Catholic faith. And I’ve found some beautiful gold Rosary beads on EBay.

Links to Fair Admissions Campaign here
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FJM's picture
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 19:22

Our son has just been awarded a place at a local school. We are not happy with the standards there, but we have to like it it or lump it, as there is no choice or variety of provision in our LEA.

Lisa Pettifer's picture
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 23:31

Maybe you should divorce first, so your (ex) husband can take holy orders, become a priest, and then admit his own son into the school...?

Brian's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 07:45

Friends of mine 'split up' and Mum moved to a flat near to the over subscribed school. Once son was settled in, there was a wonderful 'reconciliation' and she moved back to the marital home, school place secured.
Needed some acting, commitment and, of course, enough money to afford to rent a flat for six months or so.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 08:25

FJM - I do soooooo agree. I live in Pimlico and three of the four primaries are run by the same academy chain.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 08:31

FJM - LA maintained schools are not all exactly the same (unlike many schools in academy chains). Each has its own ethos, ways of working etc. So to say there's no "choice or "variety" because most of the schools happen to be under the stewardship of the LA is inaccurate.

But this thread isn't really about choice, variety etc. It's about hypocrisy which is something I thought the church would not wish to encourage.

agov's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 09:19

"we have to like it it or lump it"

Not true.

You can try to become a school governor to support and challenge the school.

With your professional knowledge you might be a useful asset to the GB provided you don't go native and, when it comes to the crunch, vote for whatever is congenial to staff.

Dave Moore's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 13:29

Are they still 'friends' of yours? Did you 'have a word'?

Brian's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 15:09

We moved many miles away the next year and haven't seen them much since ... circumstances not choice. But I forgot one requirement, on top of acting and money, and that's knowing how to play the system. She was a primary Headteacher and he was head of department in a secondary school. So disadvantaged pupils are disadvantaged however you look at it and schools wishing to select their 'mixed' entry have a number of secure routes to use.

agov's picture
Fri, 14/03/2014 - 09:15

Brian - Just to return to another matter:


No need to thank me.

FJM's picture
Sat, 15/03/2014 - 22:14

How much time do most people have to become school governors and then take on the vested interests in the school to improve it? I have been a governor and I know others who are governors who are trying to improve schools and they might as well bang their head against the wall, fighting entrenched attitudes.

agov's picture
Sun, 16/03/2014 - 07:01

For most people it depends on how much time they want to make available.

It is true that sometimes some people are incredibly busy with other commitments but that is why GBs should be a team effort with a substantial number of people as opposed to the lunatic proposals of the ConDems (no doubt hopeless Tristram agrees with them) to have small GBs.

If you lack commitment it's no wonder your previous experience as a governor was unsuccessful. Of course, it does depend on what these people you know mean by 'improve' schools. If they mean hand them over to profit-seeking edu-businesses they ought to fail.

FJM's picture
Sun, 16/03/2014 - 19:38

I did not lack commitment and my experience was not unsuccessful, it is the current experience of a friend which is so far proving less than successful, so please read what I have written more carefully and do not misinterpret it. Those of us with full time jobs are, surprise, surprise, busy with other commitments, as are those with families. It should need the attention and time of amateurs to improve schools when the professionals are failing.

FJM's picture
Sun, 16/03/2014 - 19:40

I meant to write 'it should NOT need the attention........'

Brian's picture
Sun, 16/03/2014 - 20:03

FJM (7.38 no reply button):

It doesn't need the attention of amateurs to improve schools ... that's not the governors' role and usually they would have neither the time nor expertise to carry it out if it was.

agov's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 12:15

Lots of people have families and full time jobs but still manage to do additional things such as being school governors.

When you now say, so I gather, that you previously did help improve a school as a governor you implicitly accept that is entirely possible, which presumably is what you intended to deny by pointing to your friend's sob story.

These 'amateurs' include parents and others who ought and usually do have a commitment to the success of the school and not just to seeing how much money they can extract from it.

The task of improving schools does not necessarily imply that 'professionals are failing'.

I feel sure you like a good right wing view so here is Lord Hill of Oareford (then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools):

"The governing body should be the most important decision-making group in any school and the key body for school improvement."

FJM's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 19:54

Agov. I do not know why you find it necessary to refer to my friend's 'sob story'. She is giving up her time to try to help her school even though she has no children there and never has. Neither do I know why you have mentioned money, which has no relevance to the role of a governor, as far as I know. As for 'good right wing views', that is not relevant either. The fact that I don't follow the whole LSN line does not make me right wing, neoliberal, a Thatcherite or any other such thing. Perhaps you should address the matter in hand rather than make snide remarks about people whom you have never met and about whom you know very little.

FJM's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 19:59

My point, though I missed out the key word 'not' in my first comment and then had to make a further comment to correct this.

agov's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 13:32

More to the point is why you mentioned her. You say she has no connection to the school (unless you have missed out something that I was supposed to guess). According to you she is achieving little because others are willfully providing bad education for their own convenience. Well maybe she is just not up to it. Then again she could simply be wrong - perhaps other people resist doing her demands because they are justified in doing so. Or must she be right because she's your friend? If you can't substantiate whatever it was you meant to claim then why mention it?

Money is directly relevant to school governance. It's been that way since Wilshaw and others started talking about paying governors. Clearly, if governors are paid then they are employed and therefore have employers. Who else would employers be but the parasites of academy chains wanting compliant governors dedicated to business profits and not the welfare of the children. It was you who made snide remarks about amateurs. Perhaps you are unaware that Ofsted currently expects professional standards from (unpaid = amateur) governors.

Perhaps you should read what you write before complaining about it being responded to.

I did address the matter in hand but I'm not sure you are. People with jobs and families find time to do a good job as governors. It is your choice to leave it to others. That doesn't mean you have to 'lump' it. It means you choose to.

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