It happened to me: First-time school applications

14 March 2014

Does the very thought of getting your little one into a primary school keep you up at night? There are a lot of horror stories about full schools and impossibly long waiting lists doing the rounds. Mother-of-two Lindsay de Freitas tells of the quest to get her daughter into school.

Does the very thought of getting your little one into a primary school keep you up at night? There are a lot of horror stories about full schools and impossibly long waiting lists doing the rounds. Mother-of-two Lindsay de Freitas tells of the quest to get her daughter into school:

The pursuit to get my little girl into a good school took roughly two years and just about sapped me of all my energy! I applied to six different primary schools for my daughter to start Grade R in 2013 and was wait-listed for not being “in the feeder area” by all but one of these schools. The one that did consider our application also ended up wait-listing my daughter because, as they put it, they could not find our address on Google Maps.

They did this without even a courtesy call to clarify our residential address. So I was stuck with no school for my daughter and ended up having to send her to a nursery school for Grade R as a last resort. Here’s what I learnt along the way.

Know that not all state schools are equal in South Africa

Schools that were previously labelled Model C schools are considered by many parents to be the best choice. Therefore these schools are flooded with applications every year. Along with the massive influx of school applications, the confusion surrounding the government’s formalisation of Grade R only adds to the chaos.

The move to a formalised Grade R intake, which took place in 2007, was made as a result of many children being ill-prepared for Grade 1 because preschool education wasn’t a prerequisite. However, six years since the decision was made, the government still can’t accommodate the large volumes of five-year-olds needing education.

Western Cape education MEC Cameron Dugmore was recently quoted in the media as saying, “Many of our schools don't have a place for Grade R. But the overall plan is to build additional classes at public schools.”

Get on top of the paperwork

I think school applications in South Africa should be as easy as rendering one copy to the Western Cape education department and having it distributed to the schools of your choice. But alas, schools are allowed to go as far as requesting your child’s first lock of hair as part of the application pack . . .

No, not really, but it felt almost as rigorous. Among the assortment of supporting documentation we were asked for were payslips and an unabridged birth certificate. This is a version of the standard-issue birth certificate which can be purchased at your local home affairs office – but takes two to three months to be processed.

So the best thing to do is call the school in advance and find out which supporting documentation needs to accompany the application and make sure you have it available.

Start early

The government-run website www.services.gov.za states, “You must enrol your child in a school between 1 August and 31 September of the preceding year.” In reality, all the schools I contacted had already closed Grade R applications by early May. In fact, one school I applied to instructed me to drop off an application in 2011 for my little one to start Grade 1 in 2014.

By the time 2013 rolled around, almost everything in that application was outdated and I needed to resubmit.

If you have a two- or three-year-old at home, you should definitely be thinking about primary school applications.

Follow up

Follow up until you are blue in the face. Follow up until the mere mention of your name makes them sick. Dropping off applications and calling back a few months later won’t suffice in an age where getting your child onto Richard Branson’s commercial flight into space would be easier than getting them into school.

-Lindsay de Freitas

Extra sources: www.services.gov.za, iol.co.za

Find Love!

Men
Women