Inequity of school places

The quality of local schooling is paramount when relocating

The quality of local schooling is paramount when relocating - Credit: Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

Once again we are in the exceedingly frustrating, ridiculous and rather Third World saga that is St Albans’ primary schools application process. I might call it laughable were it not heartbreaking. It makes people unwell. And the worst part is inequity.

With your first child you have this ignorance-is-bliss idea that you will have a say over where your child attends school. Parents are heard at nursery pick-up discussing their options. Oh how we laugh! Those who already experienced this hell with older siblings know there is not really any choice.

Be prepared to get a school you did not list, we warn. Eye rolls or a polite smile say she doesn’t believe she will suffer the same plight. She cannot comprehend or dare to imagine she won’t be able to control this. Not in much sought-after St Albans, once home to Stephen Hawking, where mums can control anything with enough cash in this property Eutopia where bricks are made of gold.

No amount of calling county council in tears gets you a place you can walk to in under 45 minutes, if you are one of the scores of families who live near the town centre, who were given none of the schools on their list.

Homes round the city station are within equal distance of their nearest schools (Alban City, Maple, Fleetville, Cunningham Hill, St Peter’s). It’s just over a mile. Parents put down their nearest four schools as recommended in order to get a place at one. Such is the situation in almost every other county in the land.

Then the bombshell: not only did you not get any of your ‘choices’ but you have been given a place for your beloved child - the one you grew in your body and would lay down your life for – at a school you do not want and cannot get to. And let’s be clear: they are only suitable to be deemed choices if you are given one of them. If you are allocated a school you did not look into because it is 29th ‘nearest’, I don’t think anyone can reasonably call that a choice.

It’s very emotive and worsened by other smug mums gloating about getting their first choice or complaining they ‘only’ got their second, third or fourth. Boo hoo. You will have to walk for five minutes or lift share with your trillionaire neighbor. You can take turns to ferry children in your Chelsea Tractors. It will be so hard!

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Meanwhile, mums near the station are sleepless. Ill with worry. Can’t solve it. Nowhere to turn. They won’t be able to walk four hours a day. Dropping off one after an hour’s walk and then back home with the other child/ren. Only to repeat the two-hour trek a few hours later.

They will never get a job because of unfeasible logistics. They probably can’t afford a car and there is no parking in that part of town anyway so they get tickets, paying a £100 penalty for parking outside their home.

The same body that decides this nonsense will cheerfully get involved if you don’t get your kid/s to school on time pristine in all weathers/situations. Education welfare workers - maybe even child protection social workers - would turn up if there were ‘concerns’. Yet they refuse to act on concerns about such practical impossibilities and what a toll they will take on families’ wellbeing.

If they’re lucky (?) they’ll get a place through the continued interest process. It’s a right not the lottery! They’re not asking for something extraordinary. They just need to get their children to school without a daily marathon.

Disgruntled mothers have set up Facebook pages and campaigns, which will fall on deaf ears. Their appealing is understandable, admirable and just. It will not make the slightest difference.

The local education authority is not surprised this has happened. Every year a fresh batch of massively cheesed off mums vow to be the ones whose crusade is effective! Within a few months they have got a place at a more acceptable school, decided to home school or paid to go private.

It’s the rich/poor divide made worse by the rich/poor divide again. If the middle classes fight with their wallets, they’re not really fighting. In a place like Hull this wouldn’t happen. People wouldn’t pay privately or choose home schooling and local bods with a degree of power to effect actual change would work to see that change happen.

Sort it out, Hertfordshire County Council.