One of my fellow Heads warned me when new in post to ‘watch out for March’. In education terms at least, March ‘comes in like a lion’, as parents and schools face the culmination of the long hunt for senior school places.
Yes, the first week of March marks the end of a gruelling pursuit for parents through a rough terrain, where information is fired from all sides from Open Days, league tables, Ofsted, gleaming prospectuses, playground chat, and rafts and rafts of rune-reading gossip. The world can suddenly seem full of people who somehow appear to have access to better, more rarefied knowledge about how to crack the code, find the key and open the door to particular schools.
Schools have anxiety of their own: will they fill their places or overfill? Will last year’s offers-to-places algorithm hold this year, or will Heads find themselves ruefully facing governors and casting around for portacabin space? How long to make the waiting list and when to open it and how to do all this while keeping the temperature low for admissions departments and parents?
Sure, it feels like one of the most important decisions parents make for their children. It’s a rites of passage moment, one of life’s turning points and a hectic and quirky adventure, but this kind of discovery is also fun. You and your child learn quite a bit in this quest: what you value, what you dislike, what kind of environment feels like home.
So, how to ease things down? For parents and for schools, as ever, it is about perspective, taking a wide-angled lens and resisting the tunnel vision that can start to intrude. Here are a few survival tips to navigate the 11+ decision jungle:
- Above all, before the results come in, know what your first-choice school is. Be confident and clear in your decision. If your child has been offered a place there accept it. The sooner schools have their replies from offer-holders, the sooner they can release a waiting list place.
- Think hard about how whether packing in multiple ‘meet us again, offer-holders meetings’ is helpful.
- Trust your gut, and your child’s gut!
- Come off the class WhatsApp groups for a while. They will be waiting for you again once you have made your choices.
- It may sound trite but remember that disappointments are usually meant to be.
- Above all remember that your child will thrive in more than one school. He or she was not born for one school only. Don’t just pay lip service to this. Mean it.
- Keep communicating and keep calm. Letting the school know how much you value that place on a waiting list is probably helpful; endless repetition of this to harried admissions departments probably isn’t.
- Don’t lose the fun.
Remember that even if these weeks can feel beastly, March ‘goes out like a lamb’. In a very
short space of time, your daughter or son will know where they are going and you can look
forward together to all the excitements ahead of them there.
Jenny Brown, Headmistress