Sunday, October 6, 2013

Finding A School In London - My Take On It

Originally written 6/11/2013

First off, this is a text-heavy post.

Next, there are obvious differences between the UK and US.  For us, finding a school is causing much anxiety.  My experience with registering for school has two steps.  

1) buy or rent a house in the school district
2) go to the school in your neighborhood and fill out some paperwork
3) Bonus Step - Go to Target and buy pretty new school supplies :)

Well in the UK, it’s not that easy. Once you read below, it will become clear that the enrollment procedures are vastly different. Please forgive me for any errors, but this is as I understand it.

You might be asking, “Why aren’t you sending your children to the American School?” The answer was really easy for us to decide - It costs over £20,000 per child, and Matt’s employment package does not include tuition. Truthfully, with Youngest Kiddo in preschool/kindergarten, £20,000 seems a bit much to pay. So the adventure will continue for our kiddos in the British school system.

I’m going to attempt to explain it to you, as best I understand it.  If you have ever seen the steps people go through in signing a toddler up for preschool in a competitive market, I think this is sort of similar.  Minus the application video & portfolio, I think.  Instead of neighborhood schools, they have what are called catchment areas.  This is sort of like a school district, however, you are not obligated to attend the school that is closest to your residence.

In mid-September 2013 for school year 2014-15:
1) Research the schools in your catchment area.  Talk to friends & neighbors about their schools and read individual school’s Ofsted reports.  Ofsted ranks schools on a scale of 1 (outstanding) to 4 (unsatisfactory). Real people write these reports, so the reader needs to take the rankings into consideration as well.  
2) Visit schools in your catchment area.  Many of the schools have specific days scheduled for the visits.
3) Apply to your top three or four schools in January
4) Wait for placements sent in April
5) In early May you receive acceptance/rejection letters for your choice schools
6) A little later in May is the deadline for appeals to get into the school you really, really wanted.  From what I read, not many appeals turn out successful.

The rules are quite drawn out when they have several students that could take an open spot and have no discerning differences among them (no special education needs, ward of the state, etc.).  Then it’s all about where you live.  The student closest to the school gets in.  In the case of a multi-story building the student whose address is closer to the ground gets in before the student that is a floor or more above.  

Now after reading the steps involved to enroll in school, do you see a problem that we’re going to have?  It is June (I know it's really October, but originally written in June).  We are almost 7 months late to start the school process for next year.  Now in the US, this would not be a problem as you attend your neighborhood school regardless of the number students in attendance.  Well in the UK, you get into a school if they have room.  That means the school that is 0.2 miles from your house might not be accepting new students, but the school 3.0 miles away has plenty of space.  

My current plan is that I will not drive in the UK, and I would prefer not to walk 3 miles to school each way (especially uphill in the snow and sleet) five days per week.

Of course I want our children to attend an outstanding school.  I’m a bettin’ gal that those schools are inundated with applications and turn many away.  Then what happens if the only school in your catchment area is an unsatisfactory school?  I don’t think I could, in good conscience, send my child there everyday.

Enter HR Gal from Matt’s new office.  He shared with her that our hope and goal is to be in the UK for school to start in September, but we do not have a good handle on if that will happen or not.  Based on that time frame we will be in the UK in time to start looking for a school for 2014-15  school year.  Aside from that small detail, we have not found a place to live, and thus, have no knowledge of the catchment area we should research.  

HR Gal heard the concern and started talking to her colleagues who live in many different areas in and around the city. She shared links with us today about enrolling in a school mid-year.  One of the stipulations to allow a mid-year enrollment is an international move. We feel somewhat relieved to know we won’t be denied schooling.  Now it’s just a matter of if we can convince a #1 or #2 school to accept our cute kids.

*The news shared in this blog posts was originally written many months ago.  We were not ready to share the news with the world at that time, so I added the original date the post was written at the top.

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