Choosing Schools, School Assessments and Potential Rejections

So this is a blog very close to my heart at the moment, having just been through an incredibly stressful 2 weeks, with a few more to go!  So I can vouch for the exercises I am going to take you through, as I totally had to use them myself to clear the ‘brain noise’ out ;o)

First some background information.  Our original plan was to go for a state primary where we live, however, a baby boom means that we will not be able to get into any of our preferred schools, and the only option is not an option, if you know what I mean.  So the first thing we had to get our heads around was paying for school for a 4yr old.  Ironically, having paid for nursery over the past couple of years, so that I could work, it’s pretty much the same fees, so financially it isn’t such a stretch, until you look at their whole school life – ouch!  Plus of course there is another baby on the way, which at most will get us a 10% discount, heh ho!

Now around us, the good news is, that there are tonnes of private schools.  However, mistake number one on my part was to not understand the ‘game’ that is played between them all and the parents, plus to get pregnant and potentially have a baby arriving in Feb at one of the most crucial ‘game playing’ times!  So I had a look at all the schools, ruled out some immediately, then visited a few, and ended with a short list of ONE.  I assumed everyone picked their favourite school, and that on the assessment the school would see what all his nursery teachers have seen, and obviously want him – MISTAKE NUMBER ONE, oops ;o)  What actually happens, is Mums apply to loads of places, then get offered and keep the place, just incase they don’t get their preferred option a few months later (all the schools offer over a period of 6 months).  Plus, some apply to nursery, change their mind and then ‘defer’ the place until reception year.  So they have automatically got themselves a place, without any of this scary assessment stuff!

So if you are looking at choosing a school for your child, or are in the middle of assessments, then this blog is for you, with lots of hints and tips about how to deal with it.  For all of these, you could do with a notebook or a spreadsheet; there is a magic in writing stuff down, which gets it out of your head and into a manageable format.  So right from the start, get organised (even if you aren’t generally an organised type about these sorts of things!).

Step 1 – What would you ideally like?

So what are your key and secondary wishes for a school?  This is down to your values, and you aren’t ‘wrong’ in any of your choices, it’s just important to know.  Some Mums around me are most keen on the academics, others sport.  I’m looking for my son to love it, get the option to try lots of things, have lunch (some are packed), and swim from early on.  Academics are important, but not above ’roundedness’, because he is a fan of sport AND art AND reading.  Keep track of this list and compare to your assumptions below.  Plus, remember what your child would like.  My son is very sociable, loves telling stories, needs a lot of space around him and likes to go outside every day, so this is important for me to factor into the decision.

Step 2 – Keep a List of Your Assumptions

As you investigate your options, make sure that you list your assumptions.  You may have to come back and adjust some of these later!  Mine were mainly, that I would prefer Co-ed, that Steiner education was too risky as we might move before my son was taught to read at 7.  But sneaking in there were a lot of assumptions about the scary nature of the Mums at some of the schools!  Now this is where there was an important clash with my Sons values, as I had ruled out several schools, that in the recent months we have met the potential children for, and he adores them.  My current situation is going back through all of my assumptions and deciding which ones are ‘real reasons’ for ignoring a school.  I was just trying to simplify the decision, but now I’m going to broaden my horizons.

Step 3 – Pros and Cons List

For each school start writing the Pro’s and Con’s for each.  Now there is an important DIFFERENCE to how you have done this before.  This time, you are aiming to get as many Pro’s as Con’s for each school.  If you have more of either, then you do not have a balanced viewpoint of the school and something is going to catch you by surprise.  Plus you are looking for the same total number for each school.  If one has less, then there are lots of things that you don’t know about them.

I absolutely promise you that there ARE as many Pro’s as there are Con’s for each school.  By doing this, you will see each school clearly.  If your decision is still hazy, then you haven’t found all the pro’s and con’s yet.

The mistake I made, was not to continue with the list as I got more information – so look on it as an ongoing project.  Where you have unequal lists, move onto the next step.

Step 4 – Unknowns List

As you make assumptions and list pro’s and con’s, you will realise that there are things that you don’t know about each school.  Keep a list of these, and then you can start to fill in the blanks.

Step 5 – What to do in the case of rejections

So I have been refused jobs and all sorts of opportunities and generally been quite pragmatic about it.  But it is a totally different even when your son gets refused!  One Mum is terribly upset that her daughter was rejected from a school, even though she wouldn’t have picked that school!  The other Mum, still has assessments to go, but is panicing, because the first school have only offered a waiting list.  I’m ‘lucky’ in that my son has been offered a ‘waiting list’ (long) for one school and reserve list (short, but they over offer) for another.   However, I may not get the results until Feb, which is when babyno2 is due, so there is a big handful of hormonal worry going on ;o)

So if you are upset over the rejection, here are some ideas for tackling it, because the upset and brain noise associated with it, will drain you and get in the way of you making a plan as to what to do from now on.  I’m going to list some potential reasons why you might be upset and how to tackle it.  Even if you have a different situation, you will probably be able to get a clue from these examples, if not, feel free to contact me.

a) You are upset over the ‘rejection’.

This is a sign that you are really sensitive about the times that you have ‘rejected’ your child.  Now we ALL ‘reject’ them at some point, but you are feeling really guilty about it.  When I say ‘reject’, I mean things like when disciplining them, you stick to your guns, even though they are upset.  Or when you have to leave them for nursery or to so something important and have to ignore their cries.  Or when you are over tired and just can’t face any more.  There are loads of different times that we might have done it.

If this is how you feel, then there are 2 things that I would like you to look at.

How the ‘rejection’ from the school helps, benefits or works for your child?  For example, are there other children you are not keen on going there?  Is it very strict?  Is it a long way away?  Is there something missing from it?  What’s important to them, that the school doesn’t have?  What’s important to your family that the school doesn’t have?

How has it helped your child when you have so say ‘rejected’ them.  Ok, so they were upset at the time.  But, did they gain independence, learn that you would come back, or broaden their horizons about who they could turn to?  Why is that important in the long run for them?  What would happen if you didn’t do it?  Might they end up spoilt, clingy, or lacking in confidence?

b) You are upset because it didn’t work out straight away, even though you know there will probably be somewhere for them.

My ‘brain noise’ was.  ‘It would just be so much easier if rather than being put on a waiting list, he had been given a space immediately’.  So I had to keep thinking, ‘Why is it for the best that he didn’t get a place straight away’.  It took me some time.  Hubby mentioned that it had got him more involved in the whole decision, which started me off, and then I got a key insight.  I realised that it gave me more time to rethink my own decision, and to investigate a couple of options that I hadn’t looked at beforehand.  Otherwise I would have to hand over £500-£1000 to keep a spot, and then find out later that there was an option that would work better for Max.

c) You are worried that there will be no-where for your child.

So you need to double check this assumption.  Has anyone ever not got into a school?  Nope, even in my case, I could still send my son to the state school.  For me, this would mean taking more responsibility for teaching him, doing sport and consistently reminding him that swearing and inappropriate behaviour will not be allowed.  For you, it might mean a longer journey.  But there is an option, and you might then get a chance to get into the school of your choice later.  It’s not over until it’s over!  Go back over your assumptions, have you ignored a location or type of school?  If this happened, it would be time for me to look up the M25 potentially, or into town.  All the private schools near me, will have spaces in Feb, because the most academic school doesn’t offer until then.  Then there will be spaces in April, when some will give up their places because they did get the state school of their choice.

Write down whats the worst thing that could happen?  Face the fear, rather than keep letting it rattle around in your head.  At the very worst I could home educate, move, go to church or change religion (we have a lot of religious state schools in out area).  Even when you think there are no more options, I bet there are some.

By the way, if your child has some very specific problems which might get in the way, like aspergers, or a physical challenge, then you might need a great deal more assistance than just this blog.  But it will hopefully start you off.  It’s key to talk to people who have been in the same situation as you, and find out how they tackled it – so get on that internet and find the support groups with the info!  Feel free to get in touch.

Step 6 – Still Overwhelmed?

If you still feel terribly upset about the whole process, then you are probably over-tired and need a bit of time-out.  Get a friend round for a cuppa or a glass of wine, and ask them to help you brainstorm for some outside ideas.  Focus on some sleep (epsom salts in the bath helps), healthy food, fresh air and taking care of yourself.  Decide that you are going to put this ‘school issue’ into a box for a week, and literally not open the lid.  Each time it crops up, put it back in the box.  You need a rest, and after a good rest, things will not seem so bad and you will be able to cope better.

Let me know if this post has been helpful at all, and how you have experienced this whole school assessment process.