A perennial rite of passage for all parents of children aged four. Where will your child go to school next year?
It’s a question many parents will have been pondering since birth, and some will have gone to great lengths to research catchment areas and possibly even move home to be near a good one.
But nothing actually prepares you for the day when you rock up to an open morning and catch your first glimpse of where your child will spend their first formative years of full-time education.
As we arrive at the school there’s only one word that springs to mind. Weird.
Just in case you didn’t need reminding that you are no longer part of the generation of youth, seeing crayons, wall displays and reading books takes you straight back to your first day at school when everything was loud, confusing and explosions of colour. There’s no escaping the realisation that the circle of life is well and truly turning.
Even weirder in my case is that I am taking my son around the primary school that I myself attended – Blean. Having not entered the hallowed corridors for nearly thirty years, I’m almost overwhelmed with nostalgia seeing the classrooms and playgrounds where I first learned to run with scissors and play with matches. Back in the good old days when Englishman Irishman Scotsman jokes were still funny, and a VCR was something only the rich kids had at home.
Snapping back to reality I have to remind myself that I actually need to pay attention to the person showing us around. Yes, this is where they learn Spanish, and here is where they hold the after-school clubs. All very good.
One of the parents asks what percentage of the children speak English as a second language. Secretly I want to know the answer too, but don’t want to be the one to ask in case it sounds in some way prejudiced. Maybe I should have worn my Lib Dem rosette.
The answer is 30%. Quite a good balance in my opinion. A good diverse mix, but not to the point where the language barrier might slow down class progression. Other schools we’ve seen have been 50% or more.
We learn that 2014 was a low birth rate year. Heads have been advised by KCC to expect a lower than average demand for places. Hopefully that means we’re more likely to get our first choice.
What happens if we don’t get our first choice? It will make quite a difference. Morning drop-offs will be tight as it is as both my wife and I work. Adding in half an hour of sitting in traffic to the morning routine is going to cost us dearly, both in money and stress.
More importantly, which school will suit our children best? I suddenly feel woefully inadequate trying to make this monumental life decision. Yes, I’ve read the Ofsted reports and spoken to other parents, but there’s only so much information you can glean.
If you want to buy a new TV set there is a whole corner of the internet dedicated to reviews, technical specifications and consumer advice. Where’s the information about local schools?
I leave the grounds feeling emotionally battered. All the other parents looked really together, and I feel like a dribbling idiot. What are the questions I should have asked? Am I really going to entrust my child’s education and wellbeing to these strangers?
Other people may enjoy the experience, and I did to an extent. But there is no question that the process of putting your child’s name down for a school is nothing short of a nightmare.
Alex Lister lives in Canterbury with his wife and children. He is a writer, political campaigner, digital communications professional and hospital governor. Alex is standing for the Liberal Democrats in Westgate Ward in the May council elections.