I decided to write this post, School Applications – Church School Conundrum because once again I am discussing the school application process for Fidget. After all, it’s that time of year and with a four-year-old Fidget on our hands we are looking towards the new academic year commencing in September 2016 and her move from private nursery to reception in one of the local primary schools. My previous related post (School Applications – School Visits) was about visiting the schools on open days and how some schools couldn’t manage to organise their tours. So having seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to schools visits, our next stumbling block in the application process is that two of the six schools we have shortlisted are faith schools. To give them some perspective I will list the following: both schools are very close to our home, putting us in the heart of their catchment areas; both schools are very good; both schools have great reputations and good standing within the local community; both schools had excellent presentations and tours during their open days. Therefore, both schools have definitely been shortlisted in our top three choices. We would happily accept an offer of placement for Fidget from either of them. So the scene is set: we have applied to both.

But here’s the conundrum: applications to these schools for Fidget will be a longshot because we have one fairly big problem, we two parents are of different denominations and we have not as yet chosen a path for Fidget. What we hope is that Fidget will be raised with an open mind and will choose her own path if she chooses a path at all. Our school system, however, appears to baulk against this approach somewhat. Now I can truly understand their stance on this because they are faith schools after all, and they would like students and families to be of that faith. But as parents and as a family we are willing to support the ethos of a church school and raise our children in such a way that they will live by principles that mirror the tenets of both faiths. Should that, along with our proximity to both schools, be enough for the admissions process? We can only hope so.

Having visited both schools and looked into the application process, what soon became apparent was that although we could apply, Fidget would immediately be relegated to the bottom of both school’s admissions category lists. Hence, an application to these schools on behalf of Fidget didn’t appear to be worth the paper it would be written on. Especially as we were told by a member of staff at one of the schools that it really wasn’t worth us bothering to apply because of our denominational status and because Fidget hasn’t been baptised or christened yet. But we decided to persist anyway.

So what can you do if the local schools you really want your children to go to are church schools and you find yourself in our situation? Well, one approach is to apply and hope for the best. Another approach adopted by lots of parents nationwide is to play the system. When I say play the system, I mean by following a trend that has been highlighted in the press over recent years and is known as “pew jumping.”

Pew jumping is where parents frequent the local church the school of their choice is affiliated to, they then get their child baptised or christened, so that they are deemed to be church-goers right up to the time school selections are made. By then they have ticked all the boxes for application. A very large proportion of families then cease to attend church services once an offer of a place at their chosen faith school has been made. This has been recognised by churches and schools across several faiths for years. So is this approach hypocritical? Well, in my eyes, yes. But if the system allows itself to be played like this, and on a very large scale, by all accounts, with lots of parents taking advantage of the system, aren’t you at a disadvantage if you don’t pew jump, especially when school places are at a premium? Well, yes to that too.

So this is our conundrum: had we chosen to pew jump, as many parents we know suggested we should, taking an ‘if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them’ stance, we may have been assured of a place, but in my experience it’s not a given that you will get an offer then either. Now I know that there will be a few parents reading this who will be saying that we should’ve done whatever it took to get Fidget into the school of our choice. And, to a degree, I would agree with them too. So if the current system allows abuse, then why not? The problem I have is that I was brought up to believe that cheating is basically wrong and should not be endorsed especially in front of your children if you want them to follow and live by the same principles.

So where does that leave us? Well, we have decided to take the high road and apply without having pew-jumped our way to a place. I did, however, let the powers that be know our situation on the application. I penned a brief summary for each church school application outlining our situation whilst highlighting our support of the church school ethos. I’m not sure how much help it will be, but it has to be worth a shot. Also, we are lucky to have six good schools in the local area to apply to, so the high road isn’t as high as it would at first appear to be. In that respect we are very lucky. Had we pew jumped though, personally I think I may have choked on the hypocrisy. My other half feels the same way – we’re definitely united on that point. So here we are with our fingers crossed and relying on catchment areas, my gentle diatribe that accompanied our application and, hopefully, a low number of applications from families of faith and sibling applications.

The clock is ticking with just 24 hours to go until National Offer Day tomorrow. Tomorrow we will find out if taking the high road has worked or not. We have everything crossed and await the local authority’s decision with nervous anticipation. Suddenly the high road we’ve chosen appears a little rocky, strewn with our worries and anxieties about the decisions we have made throughout the application process – decisions which are now out of our hands. Will those decisions and our stance on pew jumping trip us up? We’ll know soon enough …