Getting Your Child Into a Good School in Joburg

Not long ago, I didn’t know the difference between playschool and nursery or pre-primary school. I didn’t know at what age one’s child was supposed to go where. I had a vague notion that these days there is something called Grade 0 (Grade Nought), Grade 00 (Grade Double Nought) and Grade 000 (Grade Triple Nought) which, just to confuse new mommies is called Grade “N”.

But I had heard about waitlists for good schools, even nursery schools and so getting The Princess’ name down has been on the “to do” list for some time now. Without having even seen the playschool in our neighbourhood, I was keen on it because it’s within walking distance. All the “good” (or so we’re told) nursery and pre-primary schools are between 3.5km and 5km away from our house, which may not sound far, but in Joburg traffic, that can mean anything. So I figured that if I could walk her to school and back for the first year or two, amongst the trees, in the fresh air, that would be awesome. So I arranged to go and visit the school in early May – seven months before she would potentially start there. I thought that was forward planning.

Apparently not. The owner of the playschool duly showed us around and put The Princess’ name in her book, but told us that she was “full, full, full” for next year and that The Princess was around 12th on her waiting list.

The funny thing is that I’m not even sure I want to pack my 22 month old angel off to playschool for three hours a day. I just want the opportunity to be able to send her to a playgroup if, at the time, it feels like the right thing for her. But apparently, in this competitive day and age, I wasn’t to have that choice because I had woken up too late.

Fortunately, The Husband insisted on putting The Princess’ name down at various private schools from Grade 000 or Grade 0 at birth. It was during that delirious period for me, of having just given birth, suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation, battling to breastfeed and not having a clue how to care of this new helpless creature. Schooling could not have been further from my mind. Thank God for The Husband’s insistence, but mainly, thank God for his PA, who ensured that The Princess’ application forms were filled out and her application fees paid, when she was less than two months old.

But with this whole playschool scare, The Husband started panicking about her chances of getting into primary school. He wanted me to call the schools and find out what her chances were looking like. Here’s how the phone calls went, in general:

Me: (icky sweet, wanting to make good impression in this hyper competitive environment for the sake of my fourteen month old child’s future) I’m SO, SO sorry to bother you. I was wondering if you could spare a VERY brief moment to chat to me about my daughter’s entry into your school in, er, 2015. I really wouldn’t bother you so far in advance but my husband’s panicked, if you can believe it.

(Awaiting wild laughter at a panicking father, three years before his child’s entry into a new standard called Grade 0. I mean, I don’t actually even know what they do in Grade 0).

Lady from school: No problem at all. Your husband is absolutely right to be panicked. (Very sweet and patient but no sign of amusement whatsoever.)

Me: (Gulp). I see.

Silence while she finds our application.

Lady: Okay, here it is. Oh! it says “name taken off list. Tried to contact parents but no response.”

Total shocked silence from my side. I am picturing The Husband skinning me alive for yet another disastrously managed admin task by his darling wife. I am also thinking what a terrible home schooling teacher I would make and thinking that emigration to a country with less competition for good schools may not be such a bad idea…

Lady: Hahahahaha! Just joking! She’s on the list! Hahahahahahaha!

Me: (attempting to fake hilarity in the interests of camaraderie with this woman who holds my child’s future in her hands). Ha…ha…hahahahahahahahaha!!! How funny! Oh gosh, you really had me for a moment. Hahahahahaha!

Communal laughter ensues for a while – a sufficient amount to convince me that we’re best friends and that she’ll remember me and the plight of my fourteen month old daughter who is currently playing in her sandpit, shoveling spadefuls of sand into her mouth.

Lady from school: Okay, so I see you’ve had her down since she was about two months old. Okay. That is fairly far in advance, so she SHOULD be alright BUT, I cannot guarantee her a place.

I’m thinking: “Fairly” far in advance? Lady, are you frigging kidding me! Two months old for crying out loud and you cannot guarantee her a place!

Me: (very, very politely posing a question which I would prefer to lace with sarcasm.) So, er, just out of interest sake…you know… I mean, for next time, when would be a good time to apply?

Very tempted to add: “Would that be the day of conception, when we just had a feeling that, on that particular day, The Husband’s swimmers were going for gold? Or should we wait until we get two red stripes on the pregnancy test and pop that into the application envelope as proof?”

Lady from school: Well, some of the mothers put their foetuses name’s down when they are pregnant.

Me: Gosh, wow. What forward planning. Very impressive. I must remember that. Only, we don’t like to publicly name our babies until they are actually, you know, er, born, so how would that work? Would we need to nickname our foetus for your list?

Lady from school: Hahahha! No, no! The mothers just put “Baby Smith” on the application form, for example.

Me: Okay, fabulous! Will be sure to do so next time! Thank you so much for your time!

So there you have it. If you want your unborn children to go to the best schools in Joburg that you are fully prepared to pay good money for (a small car per annum, to be precise), put your foetus’ “names” down PRONTO!

Turns out that old girls and siblings get bumped up the famous “lists” so that’s one of the main reasons it’s so tough for the poor little Princess whose mother went to Plett Primary.

The good news is that, out of the blue, two weeks after being told that the local playschool, was “full, full, full”, I got an e-mail from the owner offering The Princess a place for 2013. I swear, I could not have been more excited if she’d been offered a place at Harvard. I was bursting with pride, even though she was fast asleep when we went to see the school and had absolutely no idea why I couldn’t stop giving her congratulatory kisses all day.

And the competition has only just begun. My poor baby!