Monday, 10 September 2012

The one where I can't get my kids into any local school

"You'll find that everything's changed while you've been away". Fool that I am, I wasn't quite sure that that would be the case. I read that quote in an article about the perils of repatriation. Turns out, after an initial toe dip into 'sorting' things out for our return, I discover that in fact things have changed quite a lot and in ways we never thought would affect us. Let me tell you a story...

We have a house in Derby. A house in a nice area that we chose because we liked it, the area, and the schools round about it. We fully intended giving our tenant notice that we would be moving back, but then I spent a morning on the phone to various local schools and the local council to see where I might get school places for Orla and Hamish. Let's just say, I hadn't foreseen it being as problematic. I started off by phoning the school I would prefer them to go to, which told me that they were fully subscribed. Then I phoned the council to see where there might be places locally, and was told there *might* be a place in Reception for Hamish, but not one in year 1 for Orla in one of the schools near our house in Derby. This particular school was bottom of my list in preference, but I have heard that it has improved a bit.

So I thought I might as well phone the school and see whether they *might* have a place for Orla too. Ugh! Nothing. Not for year 1 and not for reception either. The school told me they were having 90 kids starting in Reception which kind of shocked me. I was flummoxed: not a single school place in Reception class across 4 schools in our area of Derby? That's over 300 places! Let me just say that when I was walking around a few years ago with Hamish in the pram, the place was not teeming with babies the same age as him.

In fact, before we left for Germany I phoned the education department to get an understanding of what we would need to do to get the kids into school on our return. I was told that we might not get our first choice but that we would definitely get our catchment school. In fact, it wouldn't be a problem. Hmm.... And now everything has changed.

And at the end of a long morning on the phone I had in front of me the following options:

A) move back to our house and send the kids to two different schools (there are/were only 5 with places in Reception across the whole city) in different corners of the city.
B) move back to our house and send them both to the same school - of the 5 schools mentioned above, 2 also had places for Orla in year 1. Both of these schools are special needs schools.
C) move back to our house and send them to private school. I would need to get a job before our return that would allow me to fund this.
D) move out of the area into Derbyshire, as opposed to Derby, where the problem is less acute.
E) forget all of the above, and stay in Berlin which would require taking both kids out of their current school, putting them back into Kita and hoping with fingers crossed that both could get places in the bilingual school with Orla starting in 2013 and Hamish in 2014.

So what would you do?

And why am I unable to send my children to any of our local schools? According to the local council their has been a baby boom. A baby boom which wasn't apparent 3 years ago in our area. According to someone else I spoke to in the council the problem is down to immigration. A bit of Googling on the 'lack of primary school places in England' brings back lots of newspaper reports agreeing with this. And the more you tell people that you can't get your kids into school when you return, the more you hear stories of people who have found themselves in similar situations. What's going on?

And what do you think we have chosen? Answers on a postcard in the comments please!


  1. Did you ask how long the waiting lists are for the schools in Mickleover? They may be non existant so in a 3 form entry school, it is probably safe to say that someone will drop out for some reason.
    Also, do the schools in Mickleover have Junior schools where you have to apply for places? In Chellaston you have to apply for the junior school - if there are children out of catchment that have places in the infant school they don't get them over the catchment area children even if they weren't at the infant school (at least that's my understanding). I realise that isn't an instant help.
    When we got our application pack for infants school, it gave full details of every school, including how many people applied for places, how many were refused places, how many kids from out of catchment etc for each school in derby for the 2 years prior to Tom starting reception - it may be useful to look at just as a source of info for you.
    Realise I've not actually been very helpful - sorry :-(

    1. Hello stranger! I did ask about the waiting list at 2 of the schools and it was long enough that they said I could be waiting up to 5 years to get Orla in, which seems too long to have her at another school. especially, if I was having to drive her across the city. Our catchment school has an infants school, it's the one with 90 kids in each year group, so potentially you are right, I could apply for her to get in there in a couple of years. However, It was always my last choice school, though if they had offered me places there I would have snapped them up! But things that put me off this school are that it does well at infants, but not in juniors, and I feel slightly nervous taking them from an environment where they are 18 in a year group into one which is 90 in a year group. I'm sure it would be fine, but if I have other options where there is just 30 per year or even 60 per year, I'd feel a bit more comfortable knowing that they have a better chance of slotting in and someone noticing them if they were struggling. I'm sure I would feel ok if they were starting at this school with others they knew, friends from nursery or whatever, but it's not going to be like that for them. Though perhaps I am over-anxious, but my gut feeling is to try and make it as easy as possible (in a way).

  2. With that kind "welcome home party" I would definitely stay in Berlin :-)

    1. That's an idea that has been explored! ;-) possibly not been entirely discounted yet!!

  3. Swiss schools are good.
    And the local school can always get your kids in. It's the rules, and the Swiss love rules!
    The language programme is great, and the hours are short.
    Move to Switzerland - we also speak German (even if it is kind of a weird version...).

    1. And of course, you have excellent chocolate!

  4. I also meant to say that I am guessing you have chosen to move out of Derby?

    And I was also curious as to why the kids need to get into a Bilingual school if you stay in Berlin? Why don't they just go to the regular local school (bearing in mind that I don't know much about the German school system, so forgive me if the answer is obvious).

    1. G is right: everything I have heard from multiple sources round about us is that our local Berlin schools are pretty rubbish. But that's not why I wouldn't send them to a german local school, in fact when we first moved here that was my intention. But it all went a bit wrong with Orla. The effects of the bullying at Kita really have put her off speaking German and a year in an English speaking school with German lessons just twice a week have not enhanced her language skills.

      S has said we could stay here but we would need to take the kids out of their current school and we would then have to put them both back into Kita. I am SO against this idea as it seems like it would be utterly horrific for Orla, and also it seems very unfair to take school away from them. Orla has had a year of learning to read and write and do maths and maybe other Kitas do this with the kids but the one my kids were at didn't. Hamish would also be pretty upset to lose the school he's waited so long for so soon after getting there to discover he was going back to Kita.

      However, the bilingual school doesn't solve this issue as they would still have to wait until they were of German school age to get in. As I understand it the curriculum they follow is quite similar to the English one, but I need to phone them to understand how say Orla would slot in having essentially 2 years of school under her belt while other kids in her class would just be starting presumably unable to read or write.

      The only option I can see is that I go out to work (which could be an option) in order to fund the gap between the end of November and Hamish's entry in September 2014 at their current school. HOWEVER, that's still assuming that they could get those coveted places! If they don't, then I either have to continue to fund the private school or I am back to square one and possibly looking at returning to the UK where I may still be facing the same situation of not being able to get them into a school together easily.

      Or, we could just say to Orla, "Right we're here now: you need to learn German. That's it.", but everything in me says that she would find this much easier in a bilingual environment. Oh, the dilemma!

  5. Because the local German schools in Berlin are about the worst in Germany while the bi-lingual free schools are pretty good. And guessing that they want the kids to return to England some time (they will already be far ahead of the German kids, who start school here at 6 or 7).

    I can't guess at the answer- depends on economics,family, and other factors too personal for me to guess.

    1. Certainly we have discussed what it would mean to send our kids to school here. If it comes down to it we figure we need to commit to at least staying for the entirety of primary school. And, if we did get them into our local bilingual school which by all accounts is very good, why would we want to remove them after primary, because a lot of my English friends all say the secondary schools in England are crap! So then a decision to stay in Berlin means a decision to commit to Berlin for years, and years, and years. Eeeek!

      Anyway, how are you getting on? Weren't you planning a move?

  6. You're not at all over anxious, it all makes perfect sense. Moving back will be a big thing for you all, and it is always scary for children to fit into a new environment. I would feel exactly as you do.

    Tom's school is 4 form entry, I was quite worried about it to say the least. Actually, he is fine, in that it appears that they stay with their class really. I don't think that they would notice things issues more in a smaller school, but only because the teacher/ta/child ratio would be the same. He did know at least 30 children before he went from preschool so the impact was far less than it would be for Orla and Hamish.

    I think you will be horrified at the english school system anyway, I am sure Orla and Hamish will be getting a better education in their school than they would be in the uk. Chellaston is supposed to be a great school, but I am not always impressed. They are "too busy" to read Tom's reading diary, the diary that they are so desperate for us to complete so they know how they are getting on that they text us about it! This means Tom is constantly getting books he has already read. Also, they listened to him read his reading books about 4 times last year! When I went in to express my concern (in the final term no less) that Tom still didn't hold his pencil correctly, I was told that once his gross motor skills were developed, his fine motor skills would follow. To develop these skills, he could ride trikes all day long. Tom cycled (on a two wheel bike without stablisers) into school on his 1st week there, he can swim 50 metres, climb like a monkey etc. There is nothing wrong with his gross motor skills! I don't know how much is down to individual teachers and schools. Certainly the developing of gross motor skills is something that the ciriculum demands. I would put money on Orla being way ahead of Tom. If you read from the oxford reading tree books, Tom is on stage 3 and he is ahead of where the government thinks he should be on most things according to the school. I can email you his targets for this term if you're interested?!

    When are you thinking of moving back and when do you have to decide? I'm guessing home schooling them until you can get them into a school isn't something you'd consider? Please don't think I'm saying you should! I'm not sure if it's something I could do :-)

    1. All is not lost! I found a great school, and I think the kids could transition quite easily. Now... Just got to find a house........


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