Nursery School Politics

Who knew Nursery placements could be the cause of such anxiety!

It's a whole new world this realm of parenting - and it's nothing like I thought it would be.  


Back in December, we went to view a couple of nursery schools in the area to see what options there were for Levi come September.  We got our application (and 80 page accompanying document...seriously) and agonised over how to fill it in to better our chances.  We had our hearts set on sending him to one school in particular but according to the admissions criteria (which is different for each nursery), it seemed like it was going to be quite difficult for us to get in anywhere.  The criteria, although different for each nursery, largely prioritises on social disadvantage and whether or not you put that particular nursery as your first choice.  Talk about a minefield.


Fast forward to this weekend.  We got our letter telling us that Levi had been given a place at our first choice nursery.  We were over the moon, and a little bit shocked as we had anticipated the opposite.  In the aftermath of people receiving their nursery placement letters I have watched on social media as those that have been disappointed to not get a place or not get their first choice find someone to blame.  


And - as ususal - it didn't take long for the blame to land on foreign nationals and parents on benefits.  


Let me first off say that it sucks that criteria is so rigid.  I have friends whose children live 50 meters from their local nursery and didn't get in - ridiculous!  When I was going to School there was no such thing as an application - it was just assumed you would go to the one you lived closest to.  Budget cuts and rise in population (both foreign and indigenous) have a part to play in why is just isn't as easy as that anymore.  The system needs an overhaul in lots and lots of ways.  It's not fair and that's really clear, so I feel sad for my friends that are fighting for a place for their kids.  It's just not fair.


Let me also say that I am not writing this post out of smugness that we got into our first choice nursery.  I write this because I believe that ALL children have a right to education.  The working class family children, the disabled children, the children with special needs, the children whose parents manipulate the benefits system, the children whose first language isn't english, the children whose parents pay taxes and work hard - ALL OF THEM.


What I do want to challenge are attitudes.  


On facebook today I read one mothers suggestion that 'it would work out far better if foreign nationals had a school of their own' and another one said 'foreign national children should not get a place at all over our children, full stop.'


Since when do we have a hierarchy of deservedness when it comes to education?  


Northern Ireland is full of segregation, education being one of the most obvious - children still divided in their education because of religion.  When I tell my friends in the rest of the UK/The World that we want Levi to have Integrated Education (meaning Protestants, Catholics and whoever else are educated together - of which only 62 Schools & 19 nursery schools in the whole of NI are) they look at me like:  YOU MEAN NORMAL SCHOOL???  It's such an archaic system, it's hard to believe it still exists. The last thing we need is to segregate further by isolating migrant communities.  What a richness of diversity our children would miss out on!  I am excited for Levi to meet children from different countries, to learn about their cultures, their food, their beliefs and expand his thinking about how big and beautiful the world beyond us is.


Did you know that recent reports show that EU migrants contribute 3x more to the UK economy then they take out in benefits?  I have friends here from many different countries - all of them working hard to provide for their families, paying taxes, doing jobs most of us would see as beneath us.  I have friends here from many different countries - all of them contributing to their community in beautiful vibrant ways - running programmes, volunteering and starting groups when many of us are happy to sit in our own little corner within our comfort zones, only raising our heads to care about our community when it effects us or we want to have a moan.


Did you know that the number of EU migrants in the UK is almost exactly balanced by the number of Britons living elsewhere in the EU?  I have been a foreigner myself.  Moving to Canada when I was 8 was not an easy experience - I was different.  Granted, I may have been able to speak the same language but I had an accent, I was different - they tried to mimic me and ended up sounding Indian - it wasn't pleasant.  I didn't have the same hobbies or interests as Canadian children, I wasn't nearly as sporty.  It was hard - but I had a supportive family and a faith community that made us feel welcome.  I can't imagine how difficult it is for children and families when language is a barrier, let alone having members of your community want to isolate you further.  I thought we had come further than this.


It is difficult to be open to change.  It is difficult to break down fears, however irrational or sensational they may be - but it must be done for us to really live peacefully and give our children a chance to learn and grow without passing on our baggage.  I wonder what would happen if we lived less out of fear and more out of a place of inclusion for everyone.  What do you think?