Ian (lovingboth) wrote,

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Choosing a secondary school in Lewisham

I can't remember what the system was for entry in 2003, but for 2004 entry in Lewisham, you got to specify up to five Lewisham schools in preference order.

One of the things that happened at the end of year five (i.e. the year kids had their 10th birthdays) was that everyone did a 'mock SATS' test. The word 'mock' is misleading here: true, it wasn't used to rate the schools like the 'real' ones, but it was used to put everyone into one of five ability ratings for secondary school admissions purposes. Liam was in the top group.

He also had an absolutely stunning teacher's Y5 report - it couldn't have been better if he'd written it. Yay for one of the best teachers I've seen who really brought out the best in him (and the rest of the class) and yay for him having her for Y4 & Y5.

So each school in the system has to take 20% of its intake from each rating. Within that, it's based on 1) having a sibling there already, then 2) distance.

(There is a 'get into school free' card which trumps all of that: having a Statement of Educational Need, but there aren't many of those because Lewisham doesn't have many educational psychiatrists. One of his friends has one, partly because his mum is in education and knows the system.)

So it was school visit time. The nearest school is a disaster area in many respects and we never considered it as an option. One school near New Cross has an ishy reputation, but Liam + one of us who visited it, loved it. (Great attitude and commitment from staff and pupils.) Another some way off has a good reputation, but the visitors came back saying 'No way!' Two other nearby schools are girls or boys only, and the latter's an option etc.

So a preference list of three was decided upon. If he failed to get a place from any of them, Lewisham would wash their hands of him.

What other options were there?

Thanks to 'the Greenwich judgement' - a court case a few years ago involving a bunch of Lewisham parents who objected to Greenwich having a 'Greenwich residents first' policy - you can apply to schools outside your borough on exactly the same basis as its residents.

The LibDems want to get rid of this ruling, but I can see the advantages of having this as well as the problems... like the way one of the reasons Lewisham's provision of secondary schools is so bad in the north of the borough is that it's fairly narrow - a school there would get lots of pupils from Southwark and Greenwich.

OK, there's one very interesting school in Greenwich... visit it, nope. Good on music (one of Liam's priorities) but not so good in other ways.

A faith school in Southwark is close. It's a Catholic school, so wants Catholics, but other Christian faiths are second best and Liam's a Quaker. It has a good enough reputation to get people who actually are Catholics faking letters of recommendation from their priests (a mortal sin, surely!) but the visit definitely put us off.

Bexley, another neighbouring borough, still has grammar schools with entrance exams. Get into the top 20%, and you're in (outside that, it's exam score + distance, so Bexley residents will get the lot...) OK, let's try that.

Now, although they're not supposed to discriminate against non-residents remember, what Bexley do is have four exams of about an hour each. Bexley primary school students do these in class. Candidates from outside do them in a hall, not particularly near any of Bexley's stations, in the early afternoon of four separate weekdays.

So that's four half-days (at least) that someone has to take off work to take your child, wait (outside), and bring them back. We - i.e. Liam - did the (additional preliminary) mock exam (I took a day off work) and then we decided that perhaps Bexley was not the place.

Which is the reason they do this, of course. Had we been determined to get a place, I'd have been tempted to get a judicial review of the procedure: there's no reason not to have all four exams on one day, for example. It's not as if the 'outsider' exams are on the same day as the Bexley pupils ones.

Anyway, someone mentions Pimlico School, in Westminster. Although it's a Journey away, they have a special music scheme and 10% of their intake is open to anyone in Greater London by audition. Visit it, like it, Liam auditions... and gets offered a place!!


As this was before the Lewisham deadline, this removed a lot of pressure and stress: we had at least one option we were happy with.

The other local option is Haberdashers Askes. This is close by, in Lewisham, but has its own admissions procedure. It was one of the very first City Technology Colleges, and has strong links with companies like Cisco (most of the pupils leave with Cisco's networking certificate!) You need to be in Lewisham, Southwark or Greenwich, and demand for places is high: 2,000 for 200 places the previous year.

It is also committed to having a comprehensive intake, but it does it slightly differently to everyone else. There's a test, plus the candidates also write a 'motivational paragraph' about themselves, and the Y5 report is also looked at. They mark the lot, then split them into ten groups (highest 10% to lowest 10%), and the top of each group gets in. On the face of it then, a complete lottery.

Liam does the test, then there's a long wait to see if he's one of the lucky ones...

... Christmas comes and goes ...

... and in February, we get an offer of a place from Haberdashers! Hmm, Pimlico or Haberdashers? In the end, the journey time decides it: he's now a Habby.

A couple of days later, we get the letter from Lewisham - none of our three Lewisham system preferences had offered us a place.

We'd lost out on distance, in one case only by about 100m or so. If he'd been a girl, it'd have been worse, as for the girls school, the maximum distance from the school for his ability group turned out to be about 500m. Which as it's in the middle of a park, means you have to be living on the edge of the park to get in! (Lots of siblings.. from outside Lewisham, a hangover from a previous set of admissions.)

Curiously - or perhaps not if you're cynical - every one of the ten or so pupils from Liam's primary school who got into Haberdashers was in the top of the five ability groups. I suspect they're rigging the marking of the motivational paragraph and the Y5 report to ensure that they get the pupils who did the best in the test. Unfortunately, there's no easy way of proving this - they don't even tell you your marks unless you pay them about £20.

So that's our story. It's going to be different next year - they're combining Greenwich, Lewisham and, I think Southwark, into a single application system. Ghod knows what it'll be like in seven years...
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