Eloïse Macdonald (18) is one of eleven children who were ‘secretly’ placed in a secondary school six years ago. She is taking her finals at the gymnasium this year and talks to her father about the ‘turbulent times’ surrounding the secret placement and the attention that followed.
She plays the harp, loves films and drawing, likes to meet up with friends to ‘just talk’ and occasionally get frappuccino at Starbucks or falafel at Maoz and she is graduating from the Vossius gymnasium this year.
“For Greek I am now rounded off with a ten and for Latin a nine. Everything else is an eight or higher, only geography a seven, I’m not very good at that.”
In retrospect, it is exceptional that the 18-year-old ended up at a gymnasium in Amsterdam. Every year, lots are drawn for the places in secondary schools. Even then. Eloïse Macdonald put the Ignatius Gymnasium at number one on her list of choices, the Vossius at number two and there were even more categorical gymnasia on it.
She was drawn. Really drawn out. At the time, there was no guarantee of placement at the Central Lottery and Matching. It could be that children who filled in a complete top-12 were not assigned a school from their list. The only option to go to a gymnasium was in Velsen.
“Then I had to travel for an hour and a half every day. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. To be honest, I don’t know how my parents managed it in the end. There was a court case and then I heard that I was allowed to go to Vossius.”
The die decides
Her father, Ian Macdonald (56), still remembers that period well: “It started well. We went to open days all over the city with her. We visited fifteen schools. It was important to her that it be a gymnasium, because she wanted to do something with classical languages. Eloïse already knew that then.”
If his daughter cannot go to any gymnasium in Amsterdam, the parents do not want to accept that just like that. “To be honest, we didn’t want to do anything against such a rigid organization as the Osvo.” The Osvo is the umbrella organization of Amsterdam school boards and responsible for the central lottery and matching.
“We did it anyway. Look, if someone harms me, I can live with that, but if someone touches your child, you feel a burning motivation inside. I couldn’t explain it to Eloïse either.
We have four children and we always say: do your best. If you do, it will be rewarded. Suddenly I had to change that story, because we decide the fate of children with a dice.
Other parents said we should teach her how to deal with disappointments and see the draw as a life lesson. But I think it is just as important to show your child that you live in a constitutional state and that if you have been wronged you can sometimes be right. So we gave it a try.”
Thanks to ‘word of mouth’ and the help of the Stichting Vrije Schoolkeuze Amsterdam (VSA), fourteen parents of the other sixteen children who were selected by lottery were found. They seek media attention and tweet about it. “We have put the fire to the Osvo, yes.” Together with twelve other parents, they hire a lawyer.
“Another story that doesn’t add up,” says the father. “It was called from all sides that only wealthy parents can bring a lawsuit. It wasn’t like that. We could afford it, but the lawyer would help all parents. Those who could not pay or could pay less could also participate.”
That lawyer is Esther Sprenkeling, who herself went to court in 2015 after the disappointing draw for her daughter. Ultimately, the parents of twelve of the sixteen eighth graders who were not placed in any school go to court. They lose.
Even before they can adjust to the fact that their daughter will have to travel to Velsen every day for six years, the Osvo lawyer visits the parents’ lawyer.
“It came very unexpectedly. We were still in court when we were told that they would still look for a suitable school.”
The request was friendly, but compelling, according to the father: “We were not allowed to talk to anyone about it. They said: we will place your children, but do not cheer that you have won and do not go to the press, otherwise the offer will be withdrawn.”
Two days later we got a call and we had to come for an interview. Rob Oudkerk – chairman of Osvo at the time – and a school director who was responsible for the draw on behalf of Osvo, were present. We were offered the Vossius Gymnasium. Our mission was successful.”
Eloïse: I remember thinking, huh? Because at first I was the only one in the class who couldn’t go in a place from her top-12 and suddenly I was allowed to go to the Vossius. “But mostly I was happy.”
If The parole six months later reveals that Oudkerk has secretly placed children who have been selected by lottery at one of their favorite schools, negative emotions arise from various sides. Even the responsible alderman spoke out about it. He thought it was ‘impossible’. One of the parents decided not to accept the offer.
The father remembers how ‘the group of parents’ was spoken of. “Only parents with money could bring such a case. We would have banged our fists on the table and pushed our children to insist on going to an elite school. It wasn’t like that at all.”
“Our daughter doesn’t want anything from us. My wife Sarah and I have four children, each following their own path. One is at Geert Groote College and the other two are still at primary school. Eloïse already knew in group 8 that she found classical languages interesting and wanted to do something with it. Of course we as parents will compete for a gymnasium in Amsterdam. Otherwise she would have had to go to Velsen or she would have had to go to pre-university education and now she couldn’t study what she wanted.”
Macdonald – a programmer by profession – is not only proud, but also surprised about the period. “So much time, passion and fire and against the system, I’m a bit surprised at how I went about it back then. But it is fighting for your child, you do that as a parent.”
Add a table
Rob Oudkerk also looks back on that time as a ‘heavy period’. He said earlier The parole that he thought he could ‘arrange it for those children’. “I called school principals and administrators to ask if they could add another table. As soon as that became known, I received curses from all sides. I am Jewish and that included terrible anti-Jewish insults.”
Did Oudkerk and the father still have contact after that ‘turbulent’ period, as he calls it? “Once,” says the father. “When Eloïse only got eights and nines in her first year, I emailed Oudkerk with a photo of her transcript and the text: ‘You see.’ He appreciated it. “I got your email, nice,” he said when I ran into him later.
Eloïse will hear in two weeks, on June 14, whether she has passed. After that she wants to go to Scotland to study classical languages. “I’m going to the University of St Andrews. There are different combinations possible. For example, I can do a double bachelor there; classical languages and something with film or art. That seems very cool to me.”
About the author: Raounak Khaddari writes for The parole on education, young people and young adults. In her Nieuwe Lichting series, she examines challenges and trends that people in their twenties and thirties face in the city.
Knowing more? Listen to the podcast Amsterdam metropolis
Corrie Gerritsma, news chief of Het Parool, experienced the draw last year as a mother. Her son got bad news and ended up at preferred school number ten.
How did the day of the results go at their home? And how are things going with the first grader? You can hear it in the episode of Amsterdam metropolis below.
You can also listen via Spotify, iTunes and other podcast channels.