THE date’s ringed in red on our kitchen calendar and there’ll be a few more sleepless nights before it rolls around.
April 16 is the date countless parents across Leeds are dreading – the day we find out where our children are going to primary school.
When you stick school ratings on the internet and give parents the choice of where to send their children, this is what happens.
Let’s put this into context.
At least our kids have access to education. Plenty of children around the world don’t.
So it’s really not the end of the world if families don’t get their first choice school. It just feels that way.
Because getting your children into your preferred school is now survival of the fittest stuff.
Parents will lie on application forms, put down granny’s address, rent a house a few streets away and even pretend they’re divorced if it means getting that coveted school place.
It’s tragic, pathetic... and perfectly understandable.
Let’s get this straight. I’m not for one minute condoning the cheating and lying that deprives other kids of a school place that should by rights be theirs.
But when you stick school ratings on the internet and then give parents the choice of where to send their children, that’s what happens.
You’re battling the natural instinct of every mum and dad worth his or her salt – to make sure their child has the best start in life they can give them.
It’s why the recent report that children of pushy parents are getting an unfair share of places at the best state schools was no surprise to anyone.
Think-tank Civitas says families who can afford to are moving house to get in the catchment areas of the top schools.
In other news, the Earth is round.
Is it right? No. Can you blame them? Of course not. The fault lies with a system that is fundamentally flawed. Let’s look at the situation here in Leeds.
A decade or so back, Education Leeds – the body which then ran the city’s schools, and which in turn was run by Leeds City Council – decided to save money by shutting a raft of primaries.
Parents who warned birth rates were about to go through the roof were told to stop talking nonsense. Sure enough we’ve been left with a huge shortage of places with just about every single primary school in the city oversubscribed.
It’s why, about two months after our children were born, we found out that at less than half a mile we were too far away from our nearest school to get in.
Faced with the prospect of being shoved to the bottom of the queue, we moved. It was a decision that cost us thousands of pounds. Do I regret it? I’ll tell you on April 16.
But primary school is only the start of the nightmare.
Secondary school is even worse, because parents see it as make or break time for their kids’ hopes of getting on in life.
A lot of this stems from the fact that going to a posh school is increasingly a passport to the top jobs. Far from becoming more egalitarian, society is slipping back into its old class ways.
Look at the Government. You’d be hard pushed to find a single Minister whose parents didn’t pay for their education.
True, there’s Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who went to Roundhay School – which parents will kill to get their children into – but she’s since had a pop at the “right-on” education she got there.
Parents aren’t stupid, they know the best way to give their child a decent chance of future success is to secure them an education that’s as close to the one enjoyed by the privileged as finances allow.
So yes, that means buying a house near a decent primary school, then probably moving again to get near a good high school.
If it’s a grammar (and I don’t mean £12,000-a-year Leeds Grammar) then that’s even better.
What parents don’t need is to be made to feel guilty for this by politicians who condemn “sharp-elbowed” parents – and then blithely spend our money on sending their kids to private school.