Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Posts Tagged ‘chaos

Email chaos for families waiting for school admissions news

with 3 comments

The date of March 1 was hovering over tens of thousands of families for months: it was National Offers Day, the day we would, at last, find out the future of our children’s secondary education.

After months of uncertainty – compounded by the problems many parents in Walsall experienced when the Schools Adjudicator changed the admissions criteria for one secondary school one week before the preference form deadline – we were ready for the outcome.

Serco, the organisation that runs education services in Walsall, had set up an email notification system for those parents who wanted to know as early as possible which secondary school their child would be attending.

There would, we were assured, an email dropping into the inbox at approximately 00.01 on Monday, March 1.

It beat waiting another day for the news, so I duly signed up.

Many parents kept themselves awake and sat at their computer at midnight, nervously waiting to open their email accounts. (I didn’t; I fell  asleep, despite efforts to stay awake.)

It was 00.01. Nothing. They waited and refreshed the incoming mail box. Nothing. 00.10; 00.15; 00.25; 00.45; 01.00. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

After a fitful night, I eventually reached for the laptop at 5am. Nothing? This can’t be right. There was a slight wave of panic: did I fill in the form correctly? Did I ask for email notification? I checked my print out. Yes, everything was in order.

So where was it? It was not until 7.30am that friends began to text each other. No one had received the promised email.

The children started to worry; we became anxious. It had worked last year, why not this?

It seems Walsall was not the only place to experience technical hitches.

In Northamptonshire, more than 5,000 parents hoping to be able to log onto the education website run by Capita on Monday morning found it had crashed and were unable to get the news they were after.

In Nottingham there were similar technical problems, which left parents chewing their nails until 3pm when the hitch was sorted out and emails were eventually sent.

Thousands of anxious parents in London and Surrey were left without the news they had been waiting for after Pan London Admission Systems, a website for the 33 London boroughs and Surrey, also suffered problems.

In the grand scale of things, these types of hitches might be considered small fry – and anyone who has not gone through the process might well scoff at parents over-reacting.

Believe me: once you are embroiled in the whole procedure, any delay is unbearable.

Perhaps a better way should be introduced. Instead of the piecemeal, drip-drip leak of information of who has a place where, perhaps letters should be sent to primary schools who should then distribute them to parents and carers on a single day at a given time.

I suspect there will never be an entirely fool-proof system, but this year has proven that technology isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Serco has yet to comment about its technology failure.

Written by CommonPeople

March 2, 2010 at 3:05 pm

It’s snow joke (geddit) when we get bad weather*

with one comment

Anyone would have thought the UK was in the grip of a new Ice Age when it snowed yesterday. That’s right: in the middle of winter, it snowed. Quite a lot. And the whole country fell apart at the seams.

Our overseas cousins who live in cold climes be must howling with derision at our seeming inability to cope with any extreme weather.

A Canadian who lives in this country revelled in telling me how she chortled as we struggled to do anything ten feet away from our front doors because there had been a light dusting of snow. Where she was from they had proper weather: 35C in the summer and -30C in the winter.

No one missed a day at school or work because of it. They simply had the mentality to deal with it. She travelled on a Trans-Atlantic flight one winter and it landed perfectly well with no problems, even though the weather was Arctic-like.

On her return to England her flight was diverted to another airport because of the inclement weather. It was about -2C and there was about two inches of snow. It took half the time of the flight again to go about 100 miles.

That’s the problem with the UK in general. We can’t cope when it snows and we do nothing to show our mettle. Instead, we put the kettle on, have a nice cup of tea and wait for the nasty weather to go away.

One snap of proper snow and public transport grinds to a halt; people panic about making journeys; roads become gridlocked; the media becomes over-excited at the fact there is a white-out/a big freeze/snow joke etc. To the outside world we must look ridiculous. We are – in general – pathetic.

(Of course, as the subject is weather-related we Brits will talk about it. It doesn’t matter what the weather, we will be able to comment on it ad nauseam: a stiff breeze coming from the east? Oh yes, we will engage for ten minutes about it. Weather too hot? Well, we can regale you with tales of what it was like in ’76.)

But the thing that has narked me beyond belief is that school headteachers were practically falling over themselves to close. Why?

I’ll scream if anyone shouts “health and safety”. According to the BBC, Ed Balls, the schools secretary for England, told Radio Four’s World at One:

There’s always a balance to be struck. In retrospect maybe the schools could have opened.”

This is certainly the case for primary schools, as many pupils live nearby, although I concede there might be difficulties for some senior schools, as some pupils may have to travel long distances on buses to get there (assuming doting parents allow them to use public transport nowadays).

Schools close because it is difficult for the teachers to get in. And? I am expected to go to work in the bad weather. If I don’t, I, like millions of others, have either to take a day’s leave or go unpaid.  Teachers, on the other hand, will be enjoying another day or two’s PAID holiday to add to the 13 weeks+ they already get. I bet if they were told they wouldn’t be paid because of the weather they’d find a way of getting in alright.

Can you imagine what would happen to the economy if everywhere was closed because of the bad weather? The Federation of Small Businesses believes that 20 per cent of the working population didn’t make it to work yesterday. That’s 6.4 million people.

Estimates on the cost to the economy yesterday alone come in between £900 million and £1.2 billion.

That’s the sound of the credit crunching under your snow boots.

(* the headline, by the way, is meant to be hackneyed and cringe-worthy)

Written by CommonPeople

February 3, 2009 at 4:07 pm