I am picturing a little girl. She has blond hair and blue eyes. She is wearing a polo shirt with her school’s emblem on its breast. Holding a picture she has drawn for me, she shouts “Daddy” as she runs towards me from her classroom, the same classroom in which her brother spent the previous year on his entry to school.
I’ve been holding that image in my mind a lot today. The image of my daughter following in her brother’s footsteps. I’ve been holding it in my mind because we have just embarked on another chapter in the stressful journey to ensure that dream becomes a reality.
Regular readers will know that after Oliver had secured his place at his primary school, the local education authority changed the admission criteria such that the chances of Lucy being able to join him at his school were transformed from a virtual certainty to “a chance” that would depend on how many children apply from the school’s catchment area. This is because despite being the closest school to us, we are not in the catchment area for that school. On top of that, the timing of the change meant we couldn’t just change Oliver’s school to be the one in our catchment area (where Lucy would be guaranteed a place) before the start of the school year. Instead he would have had to join a waiting list at position 16.
In short, we were faced with having our children in different schools.
Even disregarding the logistical headache this would present, it was a terrible prospect. Lucy acts tough, but watch closely and you’ll see she imitates her brother a lot, looking to him for her lead and gaining great re-assurance from his presence. He is the oldest in his school year, she will probably be the youngest. Compare her apparent confidence when he is around with the scene we have faced every morning (and even the nights before) she goes to nursery over the last couple of weeks: tears upon tears as she pleads not to have to go.
A few months ago, a group of 34 parents, including ourselves, lodged an objection to the change in admissions policy. Last Friday we received the result of that objection. The adjudicator acknowledged that we were correct in highlighting breaches of the school admissions code by the local authority, but still failed to uphold our objection.
We were devastated.
So now we have a choice. Wait and see whether Lucy might still get into Oliver’s school despite the odds; or move house into the catchment area of Oliver’s school. It is a choice between certain short-term pain with a guaranteed result (because as a sibling in catchment it is certain that she will get in), versus gambling she’ll get in without us moving house with the possibility of much longer-term pain if she doesn’t.
Right now our options are still open, but we have put down a deposit on a rented property – there’s no time to sell – in the catchment area. We get the keys in 2 weeks time and now have to find someone to rent our house as soon as possible. The rental house is not as big or as nicely decorated as ours, nor is it in as good a location. But our thinking when grabbing this property was that we make it our home because in the long term, having our family together, including having our kids together in a school to whom we can give our undivided support, is more important than precisely which street we live in.
The converse argument – and one we have failed to entirely quash – is that the disruption of moving house could be worse all round than of going to 2 schools and/or moving schools. The kids love their home, as do we. Would the stresses of such an upheaval outweigh the very stresses we are trying to avoid for our children?
Everything has happened so fast. Since Friday we have faced so many possible scenarios as our understanding of the situation evolves daily, that I can’t yet say with absolute certainty what we will do. It really is an emotional rollercoaster.
Whichever way we go, it’s not going to be easy. And the costs could be large. But we are determined to do all we can to make sure our children are happy, together in a school we can support fully and wholeheartedly.
So in my mind I picture that little girl coming out of her classroom, I take a deep breath and hold on to my dream.
This post is part of Fatherhood Friday over at Dad Blogs.