Education letter: Third-class citizens

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I HAVE followed with interest the articles in Education on choosing a secondary school for your child. Three years ago I was embarking on the process of selecting an appropriate school for my son. I duly visited all the local schools, asking appropriate questions, listening to various speeches by heads and other members of staff and checking for trends in exam results and so forth. I spent many hours pondering the question: "Where would my son best be placed to achieve his full potential?"

After many hours of discussion with him I eventually came up with a ranked choice of three schools, filled in the form and assumed that was the end of the process.

How wrong I was! A letter came back saying our son had not been offered a place in any of the schools on my list of three.

The only places available were at the local grant-maintained school (of course not part of the education authority), and the Church of England school - a school with a very poor record. How can this be? The education authority also has a policy of catchment areas, whereby people who live in the vicinity of the school have first choice, followed by children with brothers or sisters in the school, and, lastly, if there are any places remaining, others.

Where I live, a recently built estate, we are not in a school's catchment area, other than that of the grant-maintained school, and therefore children from the estate have to "fill up" spare places in schools. Needless to say, the only school with spare capacity was the afore-mentioned Church of England School.

A number of appeals followed, all of which were turned down, and my son ended up at a school not of our choice (I would like to add that he has settled well and is very happy there). But the question I have to ask is: why did I bother spending hours contemplating in which school my child would be best placed, when, in actual fact, there was no choice?

Name and address supplied