Lisa Markwell: Why is everything about school a competition?

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Today is either a red-letter day or a world of pain for parents around the country with children in year six of primary school. For it is the day when they receive notification of which secondary school their child has got into.

In recent years this has become less a question of choice and more a tortured negotiation of proximity to desired school, forensic inspection of league tables, anxiety about whether any of your child's friends will be accepted into the same place... or whether too many will.

And so on, And so on. Then you'll be allocated one in what feels like an utterly random decision. (Can you tell I've lived through the process?)

I hope that everyone gets their first choice school, including the friend who moved her family several miles across London to try and swing a place in the free school founded by the tireless media mover 'n' shaker Toby Young. Not because of him, obvs.

I say I hope, but I fear that many parents opening the letter today will be disappointed – we live in an age of massively oversubscribed "good" schools and of poor schools seeming to be in a relentless downward spiral.

I'm lucky because the nearest secondary school to me saw a slew of parents get involved with it several years before and perform almost an intervention to give it a boost. As a result it's doing very well. But the perceived gospel-like status of league tables means many cannot use any other method to determine whether the school they're applying to is the right one for their child.

Meanwhile, despite leaving school several decades ago, I still find any interaction with them uncomfortable. Every parents' evening I sit in the queue for the teachers, squirming in my seat as if it's me that hasn't completed their coursework. And it was with indecent haste that I scurried away from the last day's drop-off at primary several years ago.

Doing the school run is enough to make even the most confident of women feel a bit less-than. And that's before the new issue of women's magazine Easy Living came out this week, with annotated pictures of women in Manchester doing the drop-off.

The last thing a harried mother needs is to feel their "uniform" is being judged, no matter whether its workplace heels or homemaker Uggs. In my experience, each envies the other, but really, its not the place for rivalry.

So, at least there's one thing to feel pleased about when that secondary letter arrives – no more school run(ning the gauntlet).


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