First, some facts - My son will turn 3 in April, and no, I do not have an admission for him in a 'proper' school.
Since June last year, well-meaning people 'in the know' have been asking me, telling me, advising me and scolding me on admissions for my son. I have collected quite a bit of market information on schools, their admission process (the difficulty thereof), the USPs of each school, and the compromises involved.
Broadly speaking, two kinds of systems seem to be in vogue. One is a window-based system - the school has a time-window for admission process. This window typically lasts 15 days to 2 months and the process is nearly always the same - the date of handing out applications is announced, one needs to collect applications, fill that up, submit it, and wait for the results. The ratio of applications to seats varies depending on the popularity of the school, my estimate is 10:1 at the minimum. Where the demand far outstrips the supply, rent seeking behaviour kicks in. Add to it lack of transparency of decision criteria. Children should not be interviewed, so there is no objective (however subjective THAT may be) selection criteria. Criteria such as education levels of parents are discriminatory, therefore not stated to be applied. Other criteria, such as, maximum distance from school, etc., can at best serve as rejection criteria.
I suspect that schools face the problem of how to decide among applicants. What follows, therefore is, that schools resort to all kinds of arbitrary practices. They make parents stand in queues for long hours, sometimes overnight, before handing out applications (pretending to be on first come-first serve basis). Influence (knowing the right people) also works, however, from a parent's point of view, what makes this difficult is knowing who are the right people to know. It is rumoured that a certain school has a criteria that the mother of the child should be well-qualified, at least a post graduate and what's more, she ought to be a stay-at-home mom. A certain other school is rumoured to not accept applicants with names that do not sound Brahmin.
Money of course works, the exact mode varies. Interestingly, the 'fees' is affordable by a large section of the middle class. Schools typically do not resort to increasing fees (some do, and their situation is not much better). They charge what is known as donation or admission fees. Well, even this ought to be public, and many parents would go to great lengths to secure an admission. So, this is easy money, too. Schools try to extract more than that. The difficulty arises because one cannot be direct about the offer or acceptance of money that is not 'fees'. A certain school is rumoured to ask for a declaration, along with but separately from the application, of how much money the parent can shell out 'out of the books'.
The other system in vogue is an 'admission throughout the year' concept. On first look, this may sound like an easy way out for parents, however here are just a few problems. Students are admitted throughout the year, across academic years - meaning, a one year old kid can be admitted for an academic year commencing 2 years hence. This means that there are far fewer vacancies around the time when parents are in the decision making phase. Now these schools are in a fix. The demand-supply situation is far more in their favour than usual. So they go, let's have some fun. I can almost imagine the management of the schools rubbing their hands in glee saying, what can we get the parents to do, what can we, what can we?
So, there is this school in Chennai where you need to register for admission when you are pregnant - the earlier the better. Else, this is what the school does - it makes the parents come in every week and wait for only about 4 hours each time to just see the selection committee - no questions, no answers, no conversation. Just a darshan or dekko of the big men. Statistics put the average number of visits that a parent has to make before s/he secures an admission at twelve. 12 weeks - 3 months of regular, untiring, persistent face-showing just so your kid can get an admission. That, or endless wait until you hear of a decision. I am sure any of the methods proposed for the previous system should work here, but am not sure of the exact way to go about it.
Well, the point of this post was to document my understanding of the way the system works. Bottomline - if you have already have a kid, you are too late to get him/her educated. If you are in the process of having one, go register in a school NOW. If you are thinking about it, I don't care if your OB/GYN gives you a go-ahead - check with the school first.