It was back in December 2009 that we had to choose which school Oliver would attend. I can still picture that fateful day. We were driving along a road close to our home under a grey sky. It was almost the toss of a coin between his catchment school and another equally good school that was closer to our home but actually in a different catchment area.
“Well”, we said “if he gets into the out-of-catchment school then so will Lucy, because siblings are highest priority after kids in care or with Special Educational Needs. And if he doesn’t get a place there, so be it. They’ll both go to our catchment school.”
Three months later he got his place at the out-of-catchment school, the closer school to our home. Job done. All happy.
Or so we thought. It was a chance conversation overheard in the park only a month later that set in motion 15 months of struggle and stress. Another local Mum was saying that the local education authority had changed the rules such that the only siblings given a high priority to get into a school were to be those living in the catchment area. This meant Lucy was at risk of not getting into her brother’s school.
We immediately asked about changing our choice of school for Oliver, but basically it was too late.
We (along with 40 other parents similarly caught out) objected to the change in rules, complaining that we hadn’t been properly consulted. This was not only borne out by the fact we had no idea about the possibility of a change in the rules but also by the fact that the local authority had missed deadlines to publish information in the local press (which in any case was a tiny article buried in the back of a free local newspaper – hardly a sure-fire way to reach your intended audience of busy mothers and fathers).
Despite the validity of our objection, to our amazement, our objection was not upheld.
We lobbied local councillors and even our Member of Parliament who was supportive of our position. But the local authority would not budge.
We thought about moving house. We eventually decided against and gambled that Lucy would still get a place at her brother’s school.
The gamble failed. She was allocated a place at her catchment school.
So we played the final roll of the dice before she would start school. We lodged an appeal for her to gain a place at Oliver’s school.
As I mentioned in my last post, that appeal was heard on Wednesday. We didn’t hold out much hope as the law supports class sizes of no more than 30 children, so to award an extra place required a very large weight of evidence that to do so would be unreasonable in the extreme.
Yesterday we got the letter telling us the result of our appeal.
It was upheld. We won!
It was a moment of inexpressible euphoria wrapped up in a blanket of shock and semi-disbelief. I had to read the letter several times to convince myself it was real.
After all these months, the appeal panel not only awarded Lucy her place on the basis of our personal circumstances, but specifically mentioned the fact that we had not been properly consulted with the result that we were placed in the position of having children at separate schools.
Not only that, but it would appear that all the siblings in the same position had their appeals upheld. So six extra children need to be accommodated. The school have some sorting out to do there, but to be fair, we pointed out to them lots of ways to accommodate a few more pupils were we to be successful. And on top of that, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) has recently announced an extra £500million for the extra places needed this September. (I can hardly believe I have him to thank and praise for doing so!)
So my dream of seeing Lucy going to school with her big brother is going to come true after all. I can’t tell you how happy that has made the whole family. And I really do include Oliver and Lucy in that. As soon as we told Lucy the news yesterday she was so excited and told people about it all day long. Even friends noticed how happy she was about it and how confident she suddenly seemed. It really was uncanny. Quite unprompted, when round at the house of a fellow Dad yesterday evening, she even sat on his knee and cuddled up to him, which is an absolute first for Lucy.
So last night we celebrated with champagne and some damned fine pie courtesy of some friends who are fellow parents at Oliver’s school. It felt like the end of a hard road. But it also felt like a new beginning. A very happy new beginning.
I would like to thank all the friends who have been so supportive for the last 15 months. From those who babysat the kids while we attended meetings to those who gave us such valuable advice and to those who simply offered encouragement and words of support on-line. We couldn’t have got through this without you. You know who you are and we thank you.