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Moved from abroad, no school offer, 14-yo sitting at home

(75 Posts)
LieutenantAmerica Tue 08-Sep-15 21:44:24

My wife and I have one 14-year-old son, and got a job offer in London in February, requiring a move from Berlin. We immediately began looking at state schools but were told we couldn't apply without our London address and council tax. We weren't due to arrive until August 1, but settled on East Dulwich, paying for an empty house and paying council tax for two months starting in June, before Aug 1 move-in, so we could at least get applications in to schools we liked.

We applied 1) Kingsdale and 2) Charter. We visited Kingsdale three times, including with my son, and he took the banding test. We were told he was on place 14 for Kingsdale on the list a while later. Nothing from Charter.

Having actually moved in in August, we were told nothing else until we frantically began calling schools soon before the year began. Charter hasn't actually received the application we put in through Southwark. Kingsdale were pitying on the phone, saying they don't expect much movement in year 10.

And Southwark has offered... nothing. In several conversations they said it takes weeks to see where there are vacancies, and that there's a meeting on September 22nd to sort the vacancies out.

This is three weeks into the year. Our son is scatterbrained and has trouble with organisation, but is intelligent; he needs care and attention to do decently. Instead he's falling behind already, in an important school year. The man on the phone actually told us to engage him in the curriculum at home--only we have no curriculum and are not qualified to teach Year 10 maths and science, especially as my wife is caring for our 3yo and I'm working.

When are they going to offer us a place? Is it going to be some "Requires Improvement" school halfway across town? Can this really be the system? We're at wits' end.

(No, we can't go independent, unless there's one that costs a fraction of the 18,000/year or so we've seen around us. And we can't go religious; we can't even fake it, on principle and in practice.)

coffeeisnectar Tue 08-Sep-15 21:49:04

Sadly this is the system. My youngest didn't get a school place until October in the summer we moved. You need to get back onto the LEA and insist on a school place for your son. The chances of getting a decent school are slim but the appeals for secondary schools are generally more successful than primary.

MyNightWithMaud Tue 08-Sep-15 21:51:25

Where you end up on the waiting list for these schools will depend on where you fit in the school's admissions priorities, as waiting lists are held in the same order. So, you may or may not get a place soon (especially as these are popular schools and probably don't have much turnover in Y10). If there is no place for you at these schools, the borough should offer you a place at the nearest school with a vacancy which, as you say, could be some distance away and/or could be an unpopular school.

Keep up the pressure on the LEA. Saying there's a meeting on 22nd is (in my view) inadequate.

Blu Tue 08-Sep-15 22:28:51

Have you only applied to those 2 schools? They must be amongst the most oversubscribed schools in the area! There are other good schools within striking distance of E Dulwich. Harris Boys, Hilly Fields, Elmgreen, Harris Crystal Palace, for example . Go on lots of waiting lists .

Unfortunately schools can't keep aces open on the off chance that someone may move into the area, so I'm not sure why it is the system that is wrong . But the LA should be moving super-speedily to meet their obligation and find your DS a school. It must be very did spiriting for him.

Have you tried contacting your local councillors, or the Southwark councillor who looks after education?

Look on the East Dulwich Forum, the 'family room' board. Some very helpful local councillors post there.

Also remember you can go on the waiting list for schools in neighbouring boroughs , Lambeth, Lewisham etc.

Good luck , I hope your son soon gets a place.

anotherbusymum14 Tue 08-Sep-15 22:31:06

Keep trying. There seems to always be movement in schools. It is like a domino effect. One kid leaves a school and then another does too etc. They keep moving in and out of schools up till December. Even in the New Year there will be some movement. Keep ringing and emailing the schools. Eventually you should be higher on the waiting list and certainly after Christmas the lists get rewritten I think . Most kids want to stay in their schools by then and the waiting list will get smaller. Someone always leaves in London schools, personally I think its fairly typical. Anyway keep trying and yes just buy Maths, English, science, history, language etc etc key stage 4 curriculum books (or whatever level) off Amazon and organize your child to go through some work each day just to keep up with the curriculum. It's a real pain the system here in the UK but you will get a school eventually. Best of luck.

BertrandRussell Tue 08-Sep-15 22:33:29

Why did you only apply for 2 schools?

PatriciaHolm Tue 08-Sep-15 23:40:32

Southwark have to find him a place. But no, it doesn't have to be in a school of your choosing, and could well be a " needs improvement" school a couple of miles away.
However, they do have a legal obligation to find him a place in a reasonable amount of time; when did you first apply officially?

Things will have been complicated a little at the start by you (i presume) not wanting the place until august 1; they can't keep places for you, so if you had been given an offer on day June 5, you would have had to take it up within a week or so.

You need to get back to them ASAP and remind them of their legal obligation to find your son a school. At the start of a new term it can take a couple of weeks to ascertain spaces (if a child doesn't turn up, the space can't be allocated again until several efforts have been made to ascertain they have definitely left) but they should absolutely be able to offer something. You do need to be prepared for it to be something you don't particularly want; but you can go on waiting lists, and appeal if you wish.

LieutenantAmerica Wed 09-Sep-15 17:17:17

We were not prepared for how oversubscribed the schools are. (We got the word about the move only in late winter, and where I grew up, suburban US, you were simply assigned a guaranteed spot to the high-school you were districted for - there was simply no possibility of moving to a nice area with good schools only to be forced to send your kid to another area with worse ones.) We visited two others (including Harris/East Dulwich, and Chestnut Grove in Clapham) that we felt wouldn't work for him. But on a short and strenuous visit to the city we weren't able to visit more than 4 schools (and search for a home and do everything else, when we had no idea where we were going to live, except "probably south of the river"). The authorities were useless in explaining the process. Trust me, it wasn't out of laziness or presumption that we applied only to Kingsdale and Charter. London is a big, difficult and confusing place to move to.

We found Harris/East Dulwich strict for his personality and style. (They were absolutely humiliating a student with a dressing-down in a public area where I sat with my wife waiting for a meeting, and that initial impression was reinforced by what felt like a glum look on many boys' faces.) Chestnut Grove in Clapham looked OK but we ended up not in Clapham.

Another thing we apparently miscalculated is how far you should be willing to travel. Harris Crystal Palace and Harris Upper Norwood are both farther than the radius I imagined we'd be looking in. So I guess expanding the radius is our next best strategy.

DelphiniumBlue Wed 09-Sep-15 17:28:14

Sorry to hear you're having such a hard time finding a place.
I don't know the area you're looking in, but thought I d mention that it's worth ringing round all possible schools directly rather than waiting for the local authority.
As part of my job in a primary school, I had to deal with a few children who hadn't been allocated places in secondary school because applications hadn't been submitted in time. The LA told me that there were no places available, but on ringing round the local schools I found that in fact there were, but the LA didn't seem to be aware of them. You need to be very pushy and proactive.

citymum3 Wed 09-Sep-15 21:40:17

Forest Hill Bits is popular with ED families and there will be plenty of boys on the bus going there. Elm green is 2 stops on the train and rated by those who go there. Harris CP is not so far - 197 or 176 bus and then a walk. As to home learning, obviously it is not ideal, but WHSmith sell all sorts of home study books that would at least keep him ticking over. Key Stage 3 and GCSE level would be right I think. Persistence is key. Also recommend East Dulwich Forum
Family Room - lot of helpful people there. Good luck

TwmSionCati Wed 09-Sep-15 21:44:44

is one of these nearish you?

Charis1 Thu 10-Sep-15 07:49:09

Be VERY creful with UTCs, they are basically NOT for mainstream children,they are for behavioural problems, drop outs, criminal records, etc, for children who have seriously messed up and need a new start.

You will certainly get a place in one, but whether you want it or not is a different matter.

Being on the waiting list for two schools is useless. You need to hugely expand your radius, and be looking at any school within about an hour by public transport. Not applying to schools because you think they are too strict is also a bit suspect, in my view, why do you think your DS wouldn't benefit from strictness?

Charis1 Thu 10-Sep-15 07:49:30

It doesn't have to be in your borough

LIZS Thu 10-Sep-15 08:08:23

Around here schools have only been back a week so I don't think you should panic just yet. In the meantime the BBC bite size website has key stage 3/4 levels he could look at. You may well have to accept a place at a school not of your choosing. If you turn that down there is no obligation to find another, you'd have to rely on waiting lists which in y 10/11 tend to be less mobile. Does Charter handle its own in-year applications or does LA do so centrally perhaps?

sirphlebas Thu 10-Sep-15 08:12:22

"they are basically NOT for mainstream children,they are for behavioural problems, drop outs, criminal records, etc, for children who have seriously messed up and need a new start."

Be very careful about who you listen to on the internet!

We have a UTC locally (I have no connection with it at all) - this years' GCSE results were 100% 5 GCSE passes (well exceeding both national & borough averages) and 71% 5 A*-C including maths & English - I believe the national average is around about 50%. This is in a borough with plenty of private & grammar schools skimming off at the top end.

Whether it is a hotbed of criminality or not, I can't comment!

OP hope you find something suitable for your ds as soon as possible.

WhoTheFuckIsSimon Thu 10-Sep-15 08:16:01

We have a UTC in our town and it's very well regarded. Sadly dd is arty not sciencey or Id have considered it for her.

RalphSteadmansEye Thu 10-Sep-15 08:20:05

Yep, I would ignore that comment, too.

Our local UTC has only been open one year so only had AS results, no A2 or GCSE so far, but is far from a hotbed of criminality or school for drop outs. It has actually creamed off the most able scientists and mathematicians from 20 or so surrounding secondaries; students who are all aiming for, and capable of, STEM degrees at top universities. Their facilities, staff, industry links, ethos and now their intake are all excellent.

(Not connected with it, BTW, just very interested in its development, and know several of the teaching staff, as well as the sorts of student who are going there).

ClashCityRocker Thu 10-Sep-15 08:22:48

Utcs are very hit and miss. I have no doubt there are some excellent ones out there, but our local one is as Charis describes.

It's pretty much a last chance saloon for kids who have been excluded or otherwise cannot engage in mainstream education - pretty much a dumping ground.

Which is a shame, as on paper they're a really good idea.

Charis1 Thu 10-Sep-15 08:25:33

Maybe there are some different UTC, all I'm saying is be careful.There was a thread on here just a few days ago when a mother had decided to pull her DD out of a UTC after just 3 days, and lots of other posters were adding details about their local ones, agreeing that they are not for mainstream. The ones I know are very good - for the children they take. And the children they take are the ones the normal schools want shot of! the children who have messed up really badly in one way or anther, got involved in gang crime, drugs, etc, or just not been attending.

Don't dismiss UTCs, but investigate VERY carefully. Even the ones that look like they are doing well might have such tiny numbers that is means nothing, and when they fill up, they will fill up with the children I have described above.

RalphSteadmansEye Thu 10-Sep-15 08:28:20

I guess you would have to look at the curriculum offer for a clue as to the likely sort of intake and general feel.

Ours only offers v academic options at both GCSE and A level. There is an engineering course which is non-A level, but every other option is a pure science, further maths, German, geology, geog, computer science (not ICT). I guess it's more a maths, science and engineering college than a tech one. It would be too 'hard' academically for your average 'last chance saloon' kid.

ClashCityRocker Thu 10-Sep-15 08:52:58

I suspect you're right Ralph - ours is very 'sports' orientated and seems to offer more vocational studies than GCSEs so will be seen as a more realistic option for kids who are struggling academically.

My youngest brother is attending one, and it's been great for him - it's the only time we've managed to get him consistently turning up - but he has various issues which meant the local schools were just not suitable for him. It wouldn't neccessarily be something I'd consider for a reasonably bright, reasonably well-behaved teen (my local one, I mean).

InternationalEspionage Thu 10-Sep-15 09:09:38

Crikey, I really feel for you OP, and rest assured, the UK secondary system is not exactly a step up from Germany even if you get into a good one.

Did you not have any assistance from a relocation company? Will your employer not pay at least a portion of fees if you explain this situation to them?

Have you looked at Inter High? This could be an interesting option if you need/want to home school until your preferred bricks and mortar school has a place, yet want to ensure your son is seamlessly following a UK curriculum with professional teaching support and social education-based networking.

Don't tell Southwark you've got a solution in place if you go down that road though...else they might stop trying to place you.

Good luck.

Mintyy Thu 10-Sep-15 09:10:09

Unfortunately LieutenantAmerica you have moved to a lovely area of London which has a severe shortage of secondary school places. It is horribly frustrating for you, just as it is for those of us who have lived here for many years.

I have a friend whose son has been on the Charter School waiting list for 3 years! She is unhappy with the school he is currently attending and was prepared to wait for a place at the Charter School, and is still doing so 3 years later.

I think you should forget that school altogether and start looking elsewhere. Try visiting ElmGreen - if you want a school with a very different feel to Harris Boys then you might be pleasantly surprised.

School journeys are a bit longer for children in an area where there is a shortage of school places, but they mostly manage very well. My 11 year old son has to leave the house at 8am to get to school for 8.40am. Bus travel is free for children (we are very lucky with this in London) and it is quite normal for children to do a simple 30 minute commute to school, as a pp has said, there will be many other school children on the buses making similar journeys.

TwmSionCati Thu 10-Sep-15 10:33:52

" And the children they take are the ones the normal schools want shot of! the children who have messed up really badly in one way or anther, got involved in gang crime, drugs, etc, or just not been attending."

Charis that is simply not true, why do you insist on chatting nonsense and misinformation?

anotherbusymum14 Thu 10-Sep-15 15:16:48

If you liked the Clapham one, can your son not travel across to it? A lot of kids use trains and buses to make their way around/across London for school, so it's not unusual. It's also not unusual to go to a school outside your borough, particularly if youve just moved and also as your son will be an "in school admission" (as you're not going through the usual application system at the start of year 7 - which is really big here). We just moved too and the reality is your school application cannot be accepted until you've physically moved to your address (or have proof of address) so it's not an easy process of you come in from overseas. I hope you get a solution soon.

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