The Intense demand for space

Finding space for your child at a school can be a daunting and stressful experience

You have applied before the closing date in March. Now you are frantically waiting on a call from your preferred school. Gone are the days when we could just get an application form from our local public school and enroll our precious beings to start their scholastic path. Now the intense demand for space is beyond stressful. Parents go through all sorts of lengths to get their children into a good quality school. They purchase property in the catchment areas. Place their child’s name on a waiting list since birth. Getting themselves into debt to pay high tuition fees.

For some this thought only crosses their mind when their child nears the age of entering preschool.  When your journey of finding the perfect school for your child starts; brace yourself for a halluva of a ride.  The demand for finding space at a good quality private or public school can be intense, challenging and outright stressful.

Our Journey

The nightmare started six years ago. We had to enroll our eldest daughter then 5 years old for Grade R in 2012. My husband and I knew exactly which school we wanted our daughter to be enrolled in. This school had a good reputation, high standards and excelled academically. It also placed an equal amount of focus on cultural and sports activities.

This was not a private school but a good quality public school. Our daughter would get a good academic foundation there. A school that we felt will equip her for future achievements.   But there was a snag. They had a strict admissions policy.

We lived outside of the catchment area. There were no other siblings at the school and my husband and I were not an “old boy” or “old girl” of the school. These were lacking attributes that could have supported the application.  Despite envisaging the obstacles placed in our way; this school remained our preferred choice.

Bearing in mind that our chances of entry was lower than low. We decided not only to apply at 1 school but at 10 public schools that offered Grade R. For many parents this is a big challenge as many schools have limited Grade R classes and the intake number ranges from 40 – 60. In January 2011, we collected application forms from the ten schools.  We completed the application forms with all supporting documentation and paid the application fee where required (not all 10 charged an application fee).  We lived within the catchment area of one of the schools. Within that very same week we completed and submitted the forms to all 10 – giving us an advantage – or so we thought – as it was well before the closing date in March of that year.

A few days later we received a call from the school within our catchment area. They accepted our daughter. Paying a R250 non-refundable deposit by June would secure her place.  Noting that we still had enough time, we opted not to pay the deposit immediately as we were still awaiting feedback from 9 other schools which included our preferred school of choice.

The second week in April of 2011 we received our first response letter from one of the remaining 9 schools. With excitement we opened the letter. The excitement soon turned into disappointment. Our application was unsuccessful.  And then it just went downhill from there. Every time I went to the letterbox it was as if a judgment letter was waiting. I had butterflies in my stomach every time a letter arrived. Followed by the words “unsuccessful”.

Then in May 2011, the big one awaited us – we received a letter from our preferred school.  Knowing that we never received a call from the admissions officer for an interview; the letter was just there to confirm what we already expected.  And there it was, written confirmation. Another unsuccessful application.  Gutted by the response, I sobbed – well not in front of my daughter. She was none the wiser of the drama that was unfolding with regards to the school applications.

My husband, bless him – my pillar of strength – encouraged me not to give up hope.  He indicated that we need to put our daughter’s name down on the waiting list at our preferred school of choice. Followed by a motivational letter to the principal.  Of course there was no guarantee that a space would become available. But there was always that glimmer of hope. That a child who was accepted would relocate or be accepted at another school.  We then also decided to pay the R250 non-refundable deposit to the school in our area to secure her place for Grade R the following year.

The next day, I couldn’t focus at work, I was on edge a ball of nerves.  Questions raced through my mind – why 8 unsuccessful letters – is our daughter not good enough – the guilt – did we as parents fail our daughter by not doing everything we could to give her a head start to her future.  This whole experience was just so overwhelming, it caused me to have sleepless nights and panic attacks.

Then in June we received a call from the last school that had to give us a reply.  Finally some good news, they invited us – well actually my daughter for an interview.  We prepped our daughter well.  To our surprise when we arrived at the school, it wasn’t an interview but more like a test to see what her capabilities were.  We waited in the waiting area and it seemed as if time was dragging – eventually one of the Grade R teachers accompanied her to the waiting area.

We asked her what the test was about. She explained that she had to draw, colour, cut and paste and write her name.  Admission tests should not be an acceptance criteria at public schools.  But we just brushed it off.  Hours later, we received a call to say our daughter was accepted. Paying a R500 non-refundable deposit would secure her place.  Yes we were happy but we weren’t ecstatic.  There was a lot to consider as this school was about 25 km from where we live.  We were considering schools within a 10km radius from our house – so that her grandfather could fetch her at school as aftercare was not an option. The reception we received at the school wasn’t good and a few of their policies weren’t transparent. Due to this we decided not to accept the offer.

During this time we kept on calling the admissions officer of our school of choice, enquiring whether space has become available. Weeks went by and we then came to the realisation that our daughters chances of getting in was null and that she would start Grade R where we secured her spot. We would then reapply for Grade 1 the next year; however we also knew getting her in for Grade 1 would be even slimmer as most schools’ biggest intake for Grade 1 comes from their own Grade R’s.

Then on a rainy Tuesday in August (I will never forget that day), I received a call from the admissions officer at our preferred school. A space became available at the school. Our daughter was invited for an interview if we were still interested in enrolling her there.  Without hesitating I said yes. It wasn’t really an interview more like a meet and greet. Our daughter was accepted to start Grade R at our school of choice.  We were over the moon and so was our daughter.  Of course we lost the deposit at the other school but it didn’t matter to us. Today we know that we made the right choice. Both our daughters are enrolled at the same school and they are doing so well.

Key points to consider when applying at schools:

  • Research your school of choice – make sure you know their policies and make an appointment to view the school.
  • Diarise open days and make sure you get the all the information you need – ask questions with regards to what the school offer, teacher-pupil ratio, school fees, etc
  • Apply well in advance and make sure you have all your supporting documents like unabridged birth certificate, immunization card, parent/guardian identity documentation and proof of address, some might ask for three month banking statements. There are schools that don’t consider incomplete application forms.
  • Be honest when completing the application – don’t lie about where you reside, your income or any other information that is required.
  • Apply at more than one school don’t just take a gamble and think that the one you applied at will accept your child.
  • Always put your child’s name down on a waiting list – you never know – a space might become available.
  • Follow up regularly with the school on available spaces and write a motivational letter. This might not be a guarantee but it will show your interest in the school.
  • Having a sibling at the school does not always guarantee an automatic entry – the application for our second daughter was just as stressful as she was placed on a waiting list due to her date of birth. Preference was given to children born before 30 June – luckily she was accepted.

Good luck to all who applied at schools and I hope you get the answer that you are waiting for! My journey will start again in 2 years’ time when we need to apply for high schools for my eldest daughter.