Depending on where you live and which school you've chosen for your offspring, there may or may not be a long waiting list. If there is, you will be competing with a herd of desperate parents hoping for a placement before the school year starts.
We placed my firstborn's name on the waiting list of a pre-primary/primary school when she was 18 months old. Too late, we realised, when we got the rejection letter a few months before she was due to start at age 4. We dutifully went to the school office to plea, and was shown the list: we were second from top, but we only applied in July – apparently applications opened in January already. But we were reassured that they would keep her name on the list for grade R.
The criteria cited were older siblings already in the school, date of application, area of residence and mother tongue. It was fair: we just hadn't applied early enough. Being our first born, I had no idea how the world of school applications worked, and this particular school never really had a waiting list before. Who knew.
What were we to do? We asked around and heard about a new preschool quite a bit closer to us, applied and was very happy to be accepted.
But suddenly grade R was looming and there was the old panic again. We simply had no plan b. Well, we did apply at another – rather very nice – primary school in a posh area, but the school secretary gave our application one look and said she hoped we'd applied at at least 5 other schools. We didn't remotely live in the area, and had no history with said school.
We decided that we were prepared to beg, but not bribe. We couldn't let influence or money (not that we have much) manipulate the outcome at the cost of another child – what kind of start would we give our child? Others would argue that a good school is the best possible start.
Thank heavens she was accepted for grade R in the original school. And we just got the acceptance letter for her little sister too. Kids sorted.
One mom declared proudly she was the "squeaky wheel" in the secretary's office, who visited day after day to remind the secretary that her husband had made a rather big donation towards the school's sports field upgrades. Another told how she baked cupcakes for the school secretary, more than once. She laughed when she recalled getting to the office one morning and realised another mom had beaten her to it and had already delivered a freshly baked batch of red velvets.
Many parents seem to plead with the school board or get someone to pull some strings (I hear this a lot). Others have threatened to "expose" the school when someone else who'd applied later got placement and their kid didn't – next thing, their child was accepted. In once case, a coloured couple's children didn't make the cut and when they questioned the private school principal, was told that "you people want to get in everywhere". After a call to the Minister of Education's office, a rather sheepish principal called them back to say of course their child had a place at said school.
Another mom told us how they realised the street they lived in – although within the catchment area – was still just a tad too far away from their actual school, so the next year they moved a few blocks closer... into her parents-in-law's garage – yes, their family of 5 moved into a garage and let out their own home. Her children were then accepted.
In Johannesburg, a popular school takes pupils on a first-come-first-accepted basis: parents have to park out on the pavement and queue throughout the night. If you're one of the firsts, your kid is in. Sounds fair, but there were reports of parents letting their gardener or nanny queue all night (it was winter), and then they'd slip into the line all fresh-faced once the office opened and the line had moved forward.
Some stories make me cringe, others make me furious.
Also read: School admission policies
What is the most desperate story you've heard of of parents trying to get their kids into their preferred school? What would you do if your child wasn't accepted into your preferred school