Croydon’s school places crisis: the parental dilemma

By - Tuesday 2nd September, 2014

Louise Siwoku surveys educational choices for her son and is filled with foreboding

Fun in the school playground – but for parents things are more worrying.
Photo author’s own.

For all parents, their child’s move from home or nursery school to reception class is a monumental transition. But for some – increasingly, for the majority – the run-up to this exciting day has become a fraught and stressful experience.

Gone are the days when a child simply attended the school closest to their home. As a Croydon resident whose child has just finished reception year, I am honestly incredulous that in a wealthy country like ours, some children are denied the basic right to an education.

Whilst parents may not remove their child even for a few days, the establishment allows a situation whereby some have no place at the start of the academic year. It is a horrendous position for any parent, through absolutely no fault of their own.

A school place must be offered to every child – where is an irrelevance

Although in crisis mode, the 2014 reception admissions process in Croydon has managed to avoid complete meltdown with Croydon Council reporting that all children have been offered places, but at a high price: bulge classes, and children placed at significant distances from their home or at different schools from siblings. Legally, the council must find a place for every child; where that place is, is frankly an irrelevance.

A school place is only the first hurdle. If you work full-time, a school either near home or near the train or bus station is a necessity, as is a school providing wrap-around childcare. The list of ‘ideal’ requirements is naturally endless. However, the prevailing need is first and foremost a place in a school and it is this that successive governments and councils are failing to deliver.

I started to research schools for my son and was filled with foreboding

As a Croydon resident and, I hope, a responsible parent, two years ago (when my son was three) I started researching the schools situation and quickly developed a sense of complete foreboding. I discovered that of the six schools in our catchment zone, two were almost in special measures, two were in locations making it impossible for me to drop off and collect my son and also get to work, one was just OK and one was in the throes of major renovation. My choices were simple:

a) Private school: £10-12,000 per year – not feasible

b) Home schooling: my husband and I work full time – not feasible

c) Apply for a school in special measures: not on your nelly!

d) Apply for a school with no track record and diggers in the playground for the next year

Not great choices, I’m sure you will agree, but OK, option d seems the best of the bunch. I took a leap of faith and chose the new school nearest to my house which was under major renovation and building. Today, having just finished reception, I can truthfully say I’m delighted as the school is amazing. But I’m painfully aware that I was simply lucky and that not everyone is so blessed.

It’s not the end of the story. 2015 will see even more applicants. After that looms the issue of secondary schools – not enough places there either.

The parental dilemma continues.

Louise Siwoku

Louise Siwoku

Scots born, Croydon resident since 2000, work full time in London, wife, mum to a very cheeky 5 year old boy, chief cook and bottle washer. Living life at a million miles an hour with no spare time whatsover, but always ready to try new activiites - camping, surfing, skiiing, climbing wall and horse riding are some of the newest pursuits for 2014 and of course, writer for the Croydon Citizen!

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