■ Does the child have one or more siblings who studied or are studying in this school? Y/N
■ Is the child’s father/mother a past pupil? Y/N
■ Is the child Christian? Y/N
The scramble for a seat in a school of choice just got tougher for the kid who doesn’t tick any of the right boxes.
In some of Calcutta’s top schools, between 40 and 80 per cent of seats are reserved for candidates who fall in categories ranked in order of preference by the governing body of each institution.
These guidelines are not new but the number of applicants vying for whatever is left of the admission pie has shot up, reducing parents into nervous wrecks.
St. James’ School keeps 50 per cent of its 130 nursery seats aside for Christians and 15 per cent each for the children of alumni or those with siblings in the institution.
The two La Martiniere schools say they don’t have a fixed number of reserved seats but admission statistics tell the story.
Of the 200 lower nursery admissions at La Martiniere for Boys last year, 60 were in the preferential categories. It was even tougher to get into the girls’ school, which had 160 lower nursery seats up for grabs.
Many parents know their wards stand little chance of getting through without the quota advantage but still try, which explains the increase in the number of applicants every year.
“It’s a pity neither I nor my husband was in any of the institutions we would like our son to study in,” said a mother who has applied in two reputable south Calcutta schools. “There are few good schools in Calcutta and the ratio of applicants to seats is highly disproportionate. The prevalent system of preference further eats into our options.”
Schools have their reasons for giving preference to children in certain categories. Supriyo Dhar, the secretary of the La Martiniere schools, said: “According to the will of our founder, this school was (primarily) for Christians and we cannot deny admission to any Christian. It is not compulsory that we have to take the children of alumni or siblings but we do give them preference.”
At La Martiniere for Boys, only 10 of the 60 preferential admissions last year were of Christian children or wards of staff members. The rest of the seats went to siblings and children of present and past pupils.
Schools such as St. James’ distribute the seats reserved for Christians among other applicants if there aren’t as many claimants. But the number of applicants in the “alumni and siblings” category invariably far exceeds the quota.
That leaves the longest queue of applicants to fight for the smallest number of available seats in the general category. School principals can only sympathise with them, saying their hands are tied.
“Barely 20 per cent of the seats are for them and the ratio of seat to applicants is about 1:200,” said Terence Ireland, principal of St. James’.
Don Bosco Park Circus keeps 150 of its 200 seats “open” for all, though preference is accorded to children of alumni “depending on their involvement with the school”.
Calcutta Boys’ School and Calcutta Girls’ High School follow a similar system. So do Birla High School for Boys, Mahadevi Birla World Academy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the Apeejay schools, though their admission forms don’t mention any such clause.
The sheer number of applications received by the top schools for the new admission season is giving parents sleepless nights.
St. James’ has 3,500 applicants for 130 seats and La Martiniere for Girls about 900 for 160 seats. La Martiniere for Boys has received 1,000 applications for 250 seats and about 2,000 kids are competing for around 200 seats in Don Bosco Park Circus. Calcutta Boys has reported a queue of 1,200 children for 155 seats and Apeejay Park Street has 500 kids applying for 40 seats.
Many schools can’t refuse alumni not because it is the norm. Alumni associations that have gone beyond organising reunions to raise funds for their alma mater often seek their pound of flesh at admission time. “We remain connected to our school and regularly participate in its development. We think there is nothing illegitimate about wanting to continue the legacy,” said a member of an old boys’ union.
What many consider a form of discrimination, some consider a family right. “I spent 15 years in La Martiniere. My sisters and nephews and nieces are also Martinians. So what’s wrong if my family gets preference?” argued a city-based lawyer.
He cited the example of Vijay Mallya, who had once said at a La Martiniere function that everything was red about Kingfisher because he was from the red house. “That is the level of association you have with your school.”
But try telling that to the many parents who return disappointed — and disgruntled — that their children can’t study in a particular school because they are not past pupils. “We did not study in one of the top schools. Does that make us less qualified as parents?” demanded a father who aspires to put his son in St. James’.
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