Getting into a top nursery school should be easier than getting into a top prep school in theory because there are no assessments and admission is usually first come first served. So if you sign up as soon as your baby is born, you should be fine. But there are so many occasions when this isn’t possible. What if you are moving to London with a toddler, or you have to move neighbourhoods, or you thought you were sorted and then realise the nursery you had chosen for your child is not the right one? This happened to me because as much as I had looked into schools from the very beginning, I never looked at nursery schools as I was working full-time and the hours didn’t suit me. By the time I started to feel that full-time daycare wasn’t the best setting for my daughter and that a loving nursery school with a garden would suit her much better, there was no chance of a place at the best nursery school in my neighbourhood and I had to join a long waiting list.
I got lucky recently and after a year long wait, my daughter was finally offered a spot at a lovely nursery that had been our top choice all along. During that year, I visited many more nursery schools and tried all the tricks I could think of to secure her a space (in the end, we got offers at three different nursery schools, one of which even tends to have a two year waiting list and is so sought after they have no website and fill their classes via word of mouth). These are the strategies that might help you in case you are lingering on the waiting list:
- Sibling policy: siblings often get preference, so in case you happen to have a second child on the way, you can register them to secure a place (for 2015 or 2016 entry, for example), and once they have a place secured, you call up and mention you really want to accept the offer for the younger child but you also happen to have an older child on the waiting list and if anything might be done so they could attend the same nursery school?
- Personal visits: this is the most important part. Do not discouraged if you are told over the phone the nursery is full. They always say that (and usually it is true). But try to ask if you could visit and join the waiting list, meet the head, talk about how much you like it and why you think it would be a great place for your child. I can’t tell you how often the head would suddenly say during the visit “you know what, we’ve just had a cancellation, why don’t you call me next week and I can confirm if a place could become available”. It happens a lot.
- Keep calling: you don’t want to annoy anyone obviously, but at the same time, many nurseries and schools receive dozens of enquiries each day, many of them by people who aren’t serious or just happen to call every nursery school on the planet. If the first time you call they tell you “why don’t you call again at the beginning of July and check if anything has changed”, make sure you call again and mention you called before and were told to follow up. This way, they know you are serious. When a space becomes available, no registrar wants to call twenty people on the waiting list a year later and find out if they’re still interested. If they know two or three families who would take a space on the spot and are very eager, they will call them first (obviously, some nurseries actually do adhere to a strict policy and respect the exact time of registration on the waiting list, but in my experience, many don’t). Also, you definitely want to call rather than enquire by e-mail. Many places won’t even answer emails.
- Get recommendations: if you have friends whose children attend the nursery, ask them to enquire on your behalf. If they tell the registrar that their good friends have a child who would love to attend, they will at least get an honest answer if there is a real chance, whereas an outsider calling would usually be told it looks difficult no matter what.
So don’t be discouraged if it looks difficult the first time you call or your emails are unanswered. It doesn’t mean there is no chance. We have helped many clients relocating from abroad find a nursery place recently and I was thrilled how many fantastic offers they got from great schools. There are of course some places where it will remain impossible unless you register straight after birth, but there are also many great schools that have more flexibility. If their usual intake is for 2 ½ year olds, for example, and more children join the Reception class at 4 ½, it can happen that a toddler starts and the family moves abroad, so that even top schools can have availabilities for a 3 or 3 ½ year old in the upper nursery class.
Are you trying to find a nursery place? Are you finding it hard?