Anna is will be four years old next year, and they start kids into school early in this country, so Christina and I have begun the process of looking for a school for her.
Apparently, it's not as simple as "you go to the one closest to you" here, but rather there's an application process wherein you rank your preferences and you're awarded your first, second, or third choice based on a variety of factors, including (possibly?) any personal appeal letters you might submit to justify your choice. It all sounds terribly stressful and yet another way to enforce class structure.
The process is made additionally complicated by our preferences: we don't want to put her into a religious school and we want to avoid mandatory uniforms. OMG does that limit the field of options.
In the UK, school uniforms are touted as a virtue and in parent's circles people have a tendency to get completely irrational on the issue. As a result, it's often the case that when you're comparing schools on any sort of official list, uniform mandates aren't even mentioned, so you have to dig into each of the (poorly designed) school websites to find out for yourself. It's not been fun doing this digging. The number of sites that think it's ok to use comic sans is... unfortunate.
The religion question is murkier.
There are straight-up religious schools here, typically Anglican, but there's also Catholics, and presumably others I've not seen yet. There's also supposedly non-religious schools (ie, not funded/controlled by the church) with names like St. Matthew's (check out the font choices on that one) that make figuring this out based on name alone difficult.
It gets even more complicated though. There's an official policy here called "The Cambridgeshire Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education" which sounds like some progressive guidelines to expand kid's understanding of religion in general... that is, until you read it (emphasis mine):
Teachers should consider the religious experience of the pupils in the classroom and the whole school when planning which religions to look at and in which order. * Christianity will be studied in all Key Stages.
- The choice of which other religion(s) to study in KS1 should be relevant to the experience of the pupils in the class and local demographic. Where Christianity is the only religion present the school will choose the other religion to be studied.
- However, by the end of KS2 all major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism) and a secular world view (humanism) must have been studied.
- In KS3, building on KS2, all major religions and a secular world view must have been studied in greater depth.
It is desirable that all pupils visit a church or other Christian place of worship and the school should make all efforts to plan visits to religious buildings of other faiths. Visitors from different faiths and world views should be encouraged to visit all schools. When neither visits nor visitors are possible then the use of virtual tours and resources are recommended.
I'm reasonably certain that something like this wouldn't be ok in Canada, but apparently this is normal here.
Annoyingly, the above (and the rest of the guidelines) are clearly written to be very flexible, so the guidelines themselves aren't enough to tell you what kind of education you're signing your kid up for. You could have teachers that discuss Christianity in the same way most people talk about Greek Myth and do a field trip to a local church cemetery as part of a local history unit. You could also interpret the above to teach Christianity as the default, and other religions as adorable savages.
It's so hard to tell if I'm signing my kid up to be indoctrinated and the state is clearly not on my side here.