Parents, stop worrying about schools | Joanna Moorhead

It's natural to be anxious about pressure for school places, but we'll help our children only by staying calm and dealing with it

Parental anxiety is sky high – and understandably so. School places, we are told, are at more of a premium than ever: one in five councils says it's aware of increased pressure for places, and another one in 10 is expecting increased pressure in the future.

It's all down, apparently, to the recession – families are staying put in cities instead of moving out (so the problem is worst in urban areas, especially London) and they're veering away from private education because of the cost.

Getting your child into the school of your choice has always been fraught – but these extra pressures have sent parents' blood pressure rocketing. Last night I went to a meeting at my children's primary about secondary school transition. The fear and panic in that room were palpable – and as always where there's fear and panic, rumours spread like wildfire. This sought-after comprehensive will be shrinking its intake next year; that one is stopping its policy of taking siblings. Faces were grey with anxiety; there was much talk of sleepless nights.

Of course it's natural for parents to worry about their kids' education, and of course these are worrying times. Three of my four children will be moving on in 2010 – one to secondary school, one to sixth form (she's at an 11-16 comprehensive at the moment, so we have no option but a move) and one to university. Believe me, I'm as concerned as anyone – if all three of mine manage to get into their next stage first choice, it will be a miracle.

But I do feel that we, as parents, have to absorb some of the problem here. Of course, with hindsight, more school places should have been made available. Of course the applications process should be simpler, and fairer. But the reality is that, for parents like me with kids moving on in 2010, there are going to be problems. And worrying about them isn't going to do us, or our children, any good at all. In fact, I'd argue that we could damage our children at least as much by getting over-stressed about school places as the damage they could suffer if they fail to get into the school of our choice – maybe a lot more so.

Kids take their lead from us: we all know that. If we stay calm, they stay calm too. If we get ourselves into a tizz, they do too – and then the whole family is destabilised. If we can keep our heads, if we can believe that there is a way forward, that we will deal with this by planning ahead, by knowing what to do next if something goes wrong, then we'll be giving our children positive messages. Life doesn't always go the way we want it to: sometimes we have to deal with difficult situations. But we're not helpless victims: if things go wrong, we deal with them and find a way to work them out. Having to work through the maze of schools applications can be a chance to show our children all these things. I'm not knocking the worry – I have it too – I'm just saying we do our kids no favours if we don't learn to handle it.


Joanna Moorhead

The GuardianTramp

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