Starting School: School Admissions hurdles and how to negotiate... early years obstacle course! Beginnings

Starting School: School Admissions hurdles and how to negotiate the
early years obstacle course!
It only seems a few moments since your bundles of joy were first put
into your arms… and now you are considering the big step of their
starting school.
You have probably encountered the
‘social novelty’ that twins present to
society in general, but you will also
have realised just how complex
their interrelationships are and you
will want to take these into account
at this important point in their lives.
As your children have grown and
developed you will have been in a
unique position to gain insight into
their psychology and identity. By
observation and experience you will
have come to know your children
the best – better than anyone else.
Do not jettison this expertise just because your children are starting
school. In all that happens thereafter, whilst recognising and
respecting the expertise of well-trained and experienced professionals,
never forget that you are your children’s first, closest and best trained
Looking for the right school
Many of you will have gone through a process of selecting pre-school
provision but choosing a school and preparing your children to start
their formal education can feel a bit daunting. For one thing, this is
your first really long-term commitment. No-one chooses to drag their
children from one school to another unless life circumstances dictate
this. We all hope to settle our children into a school in which they will
spend a significant part of their next few years.
The Process
Each local authority has slightly different arrangements, so check
carefully with the website for dates and deadlines.
You will probably look at league tables, listen to friends’ advice and
assume that your nearest school is the one at which you will naturally
be offered places. We are encouraged to believe that parental choice is
a strong feature of modern educational arrangements – but it isn’t as
simple as that.
You will need to check on catchment areas – they sometimes follow
strange boundary lines.
If the school you like is one for which you are out of catchment and is
a popular, over-subscribed school, you are setting a high hurdle to
cross. You may be lucky enough to gain a place in it – but perhaps
only one. Some families are asked to choose which twin they wish to
attend the school! You will then be in the unenviable position of
navigating the appeals process.
Appeals are heard over a long period of time – from the beginning of
the year right up to July or even August. This can be very unsettling
for your family and make preparing for school a difficult and stressful
If you select three ‘out of catchment’ schools for your application you
are unlikely to gain your first, second or even third choice. If you
receive offers of places at a fourth school you are likely to perceive
this as discrimination – ‘punishment’, almost, for having twins.
To avoid such eventualities many local authorities have independent
admissions advisors whose job it is to advise you of the practical and
likely outcomes of any application, and to draw your attention to
realistic choices. It would be a good idea to use this service wherever
it is in place.
Bearing all this in mind, what should be your criteria for choosing a
1. Twin-friendly - does the school recognise the particular needs
of twins and does it treat them on an individual basis?
2. Together or apart? – is this an option?
3. Opportunities both in and out of school to develop their
unique potential
In my own research into twins in school I observed some fascinating
behaviours and gathered evidence from twins of all ages, gaining their
perspective on life in school.
(We, as adults, understand childhood through a
mixture of memory and imagination – it takes
time and effort to put ourselves into our
children’s place in an attempt to see things
through their eyes – and we may get it wrong.)
Twins need each other and see the world
through a twin construct – whether we (or they)
like it or not.
In our dealings with our multiple birth children
we have to think outside the box.
There will be, again and again, events which test us in our
understanding of their world.
Psychological needs
Twins need each other in the early years – so try hard to get them into
the same school (unless there are very good reasons for doing
otherwise: e.g. profound special needs) and if you are offered places
in 2 different schools contact Tamba and ask to be referred to me. I
will help all I can.
(I can offer further help and advice on the appeals process if you
contact me via the Tamba office.)
Same class / separate class?
In my observations of so-called ‘independent’ twins I recorded endless
cross-classroom interactions. Children whom staff and parents
believed to be happily independent and not needing each other in
school, were actually gaining constant security from visual, spoken and
tactile contacts throughout the school day. Most of these were passing
unnoticed and did not affect the work of the teacher or the other
Many twins are less troubled about leaving Mum than parting from
each other.
(Think about it – how many examples are there, in your family
experience, where twin approval counted far more than parental
Some twins really do need to get away from each other – you’ll know
if yours fall into this category if physical violence has become a huge
issue and you are wearily embarrassed by the scratch marks on your
children’s faces. Where one twin does all the talking and chores for
the other, there could also be good reason for separation. Each
situation needs to be looked at very carefully and other agencies
involved where there are profound difficulties. (Audrey Sandbank –
Family Therapist – acts as Honorary Consultant in this area.)
There will come a time when separation is a natural step for your
children – but start of school may well be a bit too soon. Be sure,
when you are deciding this, that your thinking is as twin-centred as
you can make it and not your own desire to do things neatly and
You will also need to plan for the separation over a period of time –
getting there in small steps.
If you have older or younger children you will already know that the
arrival of another baby can set the earlier one(s) back a bit (often back
into nappies and ‘baby’ behaviour).
Any big transition tends to have this (temporary) effect, so expect
your children to regress for a bit when they start school. This should
all sort itself out in time.
Looking different
Having struggled for several years to emphasise your children’s unique
qualities, often allowing them to develop individual dress sense, school
uniform can pose a bit of a problem.
Boy/girl twins – clearly no problem.
Girl/girl twins – you can vary hairstyles, ribbons, choose different
Boy/boy twins – not so easy – but sometimes there is a choice of
trouser / sweater colour – so make the most of any such options.
Remember that all twins should have the right to pretend to be each
other – at least once!
Try to make the differences clear – sometimes the teachers have only
a split second to judge before wading in! PE can be a very important
time for this. It ranks alongside playground play for potential disaster
– so think about how you can make the differences clear – discuss PE
kit with the teacher, and consider different coats in the playground.
Note: If your twins are together teachers inevitably compare them.
If apart – YOU compare the TEACHERS!
Other areas of possible difficulty are set out in the Tamba literature –
things like parents’ evenings, letters home, social interactions outside
school etc. so I strongly recommend buying the booklets.
The main things to bear in mind
twins remain twins and will go through education their own
way. Your job is to try to keep the way as smooth as
Recognise that they will compare themselves with each other
– see their performance against that of the other twin. This
can lead to complex outcomes which I wouldn’t want to scare
you with now. Contact Tamba if you are worried.
In reference to the above – it is vital that you help your
children to realise that
a) life isn’t always fair – so they will need to get used to this
b) everyone has bits that they are good/bad at (fast/slow too,
come to that)
c) everyone counts
d) whatever happens you’ll be there cheering them on
Each twin’s school life is their story – so hear it from the one
In terms of academic ability – sometimes twins try to copy
one another too closely, or, conversely, polarise their
interests in order not to compete. Watch out for this over
time, as it may affect choices and performance, as well as
Other thoughts
Once your twins separate (and they will
eventually) they’ll have lots to talk to
each other about – there’ll be ‘news’
over tea.
Don’t allow any unhappy situations to
fester – go to the school and talk it
through with the teacher.
Have your own ‘bottom line’ in terms of distress. Mine was bed-wetting
(never happened) In other words, make sure it is a significant issue
and not just a passing cloud. Daily tummy ache can be a reliable
indicator that all is not well.
When you prepare your children for school make sure that they can
both/all do the routines and that one hasn’t been molly-coddling the
Remember that no matter how ill-prepared your children are right
now, they’ll mature amazingly through the summer.
Start ‘grooming’ the other mums to set up the social interactions you
want – many parents have to give permission for others to invite just
one twin over after school. (Think of the fun you can have with the one
left behind… or phone a friend!)
Read the Tamba literature on starting school – it’s full of practical help.
Keep smiling!
Anne Thomas October 18th 2008