A phrase to strike fear into the heart of many a parent. A problem that I am currently pretending doesn't really exist. Well, I say I'm pretending, what's really happening is that half my mind is pretending there is no problem, while half my mind plunges into a dark bottomless pit of nameless terror, in which the worst possible outcome is so awful I haven't even got as far as any "what ifs..." but am stalled at an internal, soundless scream of the kind that nobody else can hear in the nightmares that haunt the darkest hours.
LittleBear is due to start school in September, and the deadline for submitting an application is midnight on 15th January. HomeVillage has a school. I have applied for a place for LittleBear at that school. I have not, however, applied for a place at any other school (yet)*. I do not have the faintest idea where else I might apply. Anywhere else will require driving to another town or village, and would just make our lives horribly, horribly difficult. That's the "what if..." that I'm not even "what iffing..." at the moment. The blase part of my mind is simply saying "it's fine, it's all fine, everything will be fine, he'll definitely get a place, nothing to worry about...".
But... there's also the paranoid part of my mind. And the paranoid part of my mind is a dark and fearful place.
Last year there were so many children starting school in HomeVillage that they had to expand the Infant School to make room for them, and that involved temporary classrooms. It's not clear whether the "temporary" is going to extend into "permanent", thus allowing the school to take 120 pupils again this year, or whether it's going to contract back to taking only 90 pupils.
So the paranoid part of my mind takes over and starts scouring the internet for previous admissions figures, for admissions criteria, for figures that might make me feel better. But they don't. Of course they don't. The only thing that can actually make me feel reassured about whether LittleBear will get a place, is, well, LittleBear actually getting a place.
In the meantime I keep returning to the interwebs and searching, scouring, hunting, peering, pecking, prodding, desperately hoping some magical, secret piece of information will be revealed to me that will bathe my paranoid mind in a warm compote of honey and flowers. Strangely, no matter how often I look, I still can't find my compote.
I have found the basic facts, such as they are. These are the criteria used for allocating places at our local schools:
- Children in Care, also known as Looked After Children (LAC), and children who were looked after but ceased to be so by reason of adoption, a resident order or special guardianship order;
- Children living in the catchment area with a sibling at the school (or a partner junior school) at the time of admission;
- Children living in the catchment area;
- Children living outside the catchment area who have a sibling at the school (or a partner junior school) at the time of admission;
- Children living outside the catchment area who have been unable to gain a place at their catchment area school because of oversubscription;
- Children who live outside the catchment area, but nearest the school as measured by a straight line;
And I can find some records from what happened in previous years:
- In 2015, after expanding, children were taken all the way to criterion number 6 and there were still spaces left, but who knows what size the intake will be set at this year? <state: mild panic>
- In 2014, children were taken all the way to criterion number 6. <state: gently calm>
- In 2013, children were taken all the way to criterion number 6. <state: warm bliss>
- In 2012, children were taken only to criterion number 3. Gulp. When that happens, priority is given based on distance from the school. The furthest away child given a place only lived 0.914 miles from the school. Apparently one child was banished to school in the next village, eventually leading to the whole family moving house. We live (quick check) 0.72 miles away. <state: nausea and palm-sweats>
- In 2011, children were taken all the way to criterion number 6. <state: still recovering from previous stress>
You see? There is no comfort to be had in statistics. There are no facts available about HomeVillage's population, or demographic, or what this year's intake size will be, or anything that I actually want to know. Someone, somewhere knows how many children live in HomeVillage. It's just not me. And nobody's telling me. Which means there's no way of getting any kind of handle on whether it's All Going To Be Alright. And (just to exacerbate things for those of us of an anxious disposition) you aren't notified about whether you have a place until April. April! That's another four months of worrying. You do know how much worrying I can fit in to four months don't you?
* For those not familiar with the UK state school admissions process, this does not mean LittleBear won't get a place at school, it means that he'll simply be assigned a place at wherever the Local Authority deems "best". The applications process is a means of making your preferences known.