All of the talk around me at the moment about who got into what school has reminded me of last year when poor Master Frugal didn’t get his first choice school. I thought I’d tell you a little bit about our experience in case it helps someone else….
We thought Master Frugal getting into the same school as his sister was pretty much a done deal, even though it’s a faith school that everyone wants to get into because of it’s excellent reputation. The school did wonders for Miss Frugal in her first couple of years there turning her from a shy un-confident child into a bubbly, happy teenager filled with confidence thanks to their gentle pushing of her to leave her comfort zone and I was looking forward to Master Frugal having the same opportunities.
I was convinced he’d have no issues getting in thanks to their siblings policy so I was pretty relaxed when I saw the letter pop through the door from the council. Even when I saw that he hadn’t got in and that he’d been given our second choice I still thought I could fix it because I knew that he should have got in.
I called the council and the school and was given the news that yes, as a sibling he should have been awarded a place but the school had failed to make the link between the two of them so they hadn’t been able to offer him a place. There are two things that should have made the link between them clear – one was a form that had to be sent separate to the online application which we hand delivered to the council office in town and the other was an address search on the school’s system which would have showed them both living at the same address.
The form went missing (along with about 12 others from what we were told) and the secondary check didn’t match the addresses properly so no link was established.
Knowing that there were errors made did make me feel better on that first day – surely if an error had been made then they would have to let him in, right?
No, apparently not.
The school is so sought after that they had already accepted five more pupils than they had space for and there were a LOT of people disputing the decisions made for valid genuine reasons like ours. That meant that they couldn’t overturn the decision just like that, we would have to go to the appeals process.
Right away, Master Frugal started to get used to the idea of going to the other school even though he’d never so much as stepped through the doors. A couple of the girls from his school were going there and one of his older friends was already there and when I rang the school to explain the situation they explained that they would put him and the girls he knew into the same form as his friend (they have mixed year group forms there). He liked this idea so he decided he was OK with going to his second choice.
I wasn’t convinced though because aside from the fact that I wanted him to have the same wonderful experience that his sister had at a brilliant school, our second choice was on the other side of town and he’d have to cycle to and from school in all weathers.
I ended up filling in the appeals form even though he wasn’t so sure anymore that he wanted to go to that school anymore and we patiently waited for the day of the appeal.
The appeal itself wasn’t for about another six weeks which gave him even more time to get used to the idea of the other school and by the time it came around, I almost cancelled our appointment as he seemed happy enough with the situation. I went ahead with it in the end though because I knew our first choice school would nurture his sensitive personality while encouraging him to push himself whereas I wasn’t so sure about our second choice school.
The appeal hearing was scary, there’s no getting away from it. I had to sit alone in front of three adjudicators, the headmistress of the school, a scribe and another random who just seemed to be along for the ride and explain why I thought he should have been awarded a place.
The adjudicators were very harsh on the headmistress if I’m honest and I found myself giving her sympathetic smiles as they seemed to tear her apart for the errors made in our application. I wasn’t the only one who had experienced issues and some of baptism certificates had gone missing too apparently which made my heart sink as I knew places won on appeal would be minimal and if there were faith students who had been declined then they would be more of a priority than Master Frugal.
The headmistress was very much under fire but spoke very well on behalf of the school explaining how they were already over capacity and more students would cause potential Health and Safety issues as well as impact the class sizes and a number of other things. The adjudicators asked her a number of questions about all of this and asked to see blueprints of the school to verify what she was saying along with copies of the admissions process as they believed there to be errors in that also.
I was then excused and had to wait for a phone call to let me know what the decision was but at this point, I was pretty sure it was going to be a no as, even though we had a good case, there were other students who had been declined a place and should have had one due to their faith and the admissions policy would always favour them, rightly so, at a faith school.
I wasn’t surprised when I got the phone call but I was pleased that we were told that a full review of the admissions process would now take place due to the number of issues. I was told that I could take it further but by this point, we just wanted to get our heads used to the fact that he’d be going to a different school so we started preparing for that by buying the PE kit and uniform along with a new bike for Master Frugal as his old one was battered with a chain that kept coming off – no good for the mileage he would be doing!
Transition came around quickly and he spent almost three weeks at his new school (it used to just be two days) and I’ll be honest, it was better than I thought and he really did enjoy it. He found himself a girlfriend and made some friends and even though I really wanted him at the other school, he said he preferred this one and that he was settled.
He finished his transition at lunchtime the day before Miss Frugal’s school broke up and he came home ready for his Summer Holidays and looking forward to starting back in September. He was still apprehensive and nervous but that’s the way he is and one of the reasons I’d wanted him at the other school.
Within half an hour of him getting home, I got a phone call from one of the adjudicators from our appeals process two months before!
Apparently they’d been reviewing their records and ‘juggling’ they’d been able to make space for him at his first choice school!
To say I was stunned was an understatement and I wasn’t sure what to say as poor Master Frugal had just done almost three weeks in the school he was supposed to be going to and had started to settle. I still wanted him at the same school as his sister but could I do that to him? I remember saying I’d need to call back to confirm if we wanted the place and I think the poor man was quite surprised that I didn’t accept immediately.
I spoke to Master Frugal and he wasn’t impressed at all! I bargained, cajoled and outright bribed him in the end to agree to switch schools but even then he wasn’t keen. Especially after I’d called the council back and accepted the place as they told us we needed to pop into the school the following day for a tour and to get some holiday homework!
We turned up at the school the next day and had a brilliant tour from one of the students who really made an effort to point out things she thought would make the school seem more interesting to him and she did sell it well to be honest. We then sat in the vice principals’s office and in the half an hour that I was sat there filling forms in, we were visited by quite a few teachers – his head of year came by and greeted him by name, a head of pastoral care did the same as did another teacher who I can’t remember.
Master Frugal commented later that it was odd that people knew his name and all about why he was there and I do agree – Mr Frugal thinks it’s because the school admissions process was fully reviewed by that point and it had become clear how much they’d messed up. He thinks the council told the school to offer him a place and that’s why they all knew who he was but I like to think that they’d do that for any student in his position.
Regardless of why so much effort was made for him, the fact that teachers did make the effort to come and shake his hand and have a chat with him did help massively. He felt like he was wanted there and that was what tipped the scales in favour of that school.
He’s now been there for six months and, as I knew he would, he loves it!
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