School: The Problem Is They Can't Do Everything

I’ve unravelled some of my discomfort last week with curly headed boy starting school, so I feel much clearer this morning.  Apart from the obvious Rite of Passage, it’s because there has to be a compromise and there is no such thing as a perfect school.  Please Note, I’m a very fond mummy, but I’m not clingy, so don’t assume that was my problem, I’m a bit sleep deprived and might get grumpy if that steriotype is put at my door ;o)

What can a school give your child: learning, academic results, confidence, sport, individuality, life lessons, art, creativity, experiences, friends, discipline, so many things.  But none of them give it all, that’s the problem.

Let’s look at our decision process when it came to picking schools.

State Schools: The UK has a good state primary system and I had always said I would NEVER pay for a young child to go to school.  But when I heard myself say that, I did get a little uncomfortable, because ‘never say never’, and sure enough it didn’t work out.  We moved into a lovely new estate when I was pregnant, with dodgy local school, but lots of fab schools around us.  So the plan was to send him to one of several.  However, a few years and a big baby boom later, and the only option was the local school (sadly I’m not catholic, otherwise there are lots of catholic schools around).  Now, I’m not suggesting that this school would have ruined his life forever, and he would certainly have experienced a different kind of reality.  But kids do need to feel like they fit in, and I winced when seeing 5yr olds swearing leaving the schools, with Mums smoking and swearing back.

Tree Hugging: My next plan was to go for a Steiner School, which I had again always assumed would be a good choice for me.  I happened to be offered a table at their fair, and was incredibly impressed with the confidence and individuality of the young teenagers as they strolled around the corridors busking and looking much cooler than the standard wannabe fashion follower.  But as I learnt more about it, I realised that it just wouldn’t work for curly headed boy’s values.  He wanted to learn, learn and learn some more.  So waiting until 7yrs to read and write wouldn’t have worked for him.  Plus it was a risky choice as we have often moved due to job changes, and he might then end up in a place without a Steiner school and have a huge amount of catch up to do.  He wasn’t the type to want to spend an extra year at school either, although I see that it makes a great deal of sense.  Plus I was a little uncomfortable with the deeper beliefs in the school system and knew that with the training I had over the past 10yrs, I would have been in major disagreement with some of their most deeply held philosophies.

Private Sector: Inevitably we moved onto the private sector, but it was a bit late in the day, I was naive, and had no idea of the amount of competition involved.  I thought that if you had a relatively bright kid, you applied to one school, and that was that.  I soon realised this was not the case and had to apply to 4 in total.  (I do understand that I am lucky to have this option, but it’s neither an easy option to decide to spend that kind of money every year on schools).

Option 1: Had the most holistic feel of them all, but this year a big sibling intake, a new headmistress starting and unfortunately I had inadvertently moved to a nursery the rumour is that they didn’t like.  Their assessment day was weird; a long line of teachers march in, randomly pick a child, and walk off with them.  I suspect that curly headed boy took a dislike to the teacher, so despite a very successful open day and private walk around with the head we didn’t get offered a space (the teacher wouldn’t explain why she needed to keep the 2 photos of him that she had, and that she’d been given them by me anyway, so he could just ask me).

Option 2: Had a lovely concept of EVERY child learning to do EVERYTHING, but the downside to that was saturday school.  I had a strong feeling that we wouldn’t fit in there with the other kids, which is very important to Curly headed boy.

Option 3: Seemed to really concentrate on creating programs that would encourage and bring out the best in your child, whatever that was.  The problem was they only had 4 spaces as they only had 1 class, already full from the nursery.  Plus, there would have been no one there that Max knew, which would have been very against his values.

Option 4: A very traditional school.  People pick it because they can rely on the results that it gives, and thinking about it this week I can see that this gives a huge amount of security as it’s not necessarily the private education that counts in our competitive job market, but the academics you get.  A large number of Curly Headed Boy’s friends are going here, and it is massively comforting for him to meet them in the play ground (there are 3 classes here).  Plus, there is a great mixture of backgrounds, which he likes.  His old nursery had all your ‘standard’ backgrounds of white, asian and black, but also russian, french, jewish, oriental; and he loved meeting lots of different types of friends.  But as you see from last week, there is very little ‘touchy feely’ stuff and so I’ve been uncomfortable about the lack of information provided and the lack of forethought in helping the kids to fit in.  Some people would probably consider me as a bit ‘bloody minded’ as I don’t tend to just do something, just because I’ve been told to or am expected to!

As it was, it was Option 1, 2 and 3 put curly headed boy on their ‘reserve list’, and Option 4 offered him a place.  I could probably have pushed 1/2/3, but decided that I would go with 4 as they wanted him from the get go, so I trusted that they knew he would fit in best there.

So there are the options we faced:

  • State sector, which would have saved us lots of money and given him a good ‘normal’ academic start, that we could easily have afforded to add to if he wanted to learn something extra on the side.  But the problem of the baby boom, leaving us with a less attractive school.
  • Steiner system, full of individuality and community spirit.  But also with it’s problems.
  • Private Option: where the education is more focussed on academics.  When watching a TV program yesterday called ‘My family’s crazy gap year’, I realised my big concern was about ‘life experiences’ and a more holistic view of life being missing.  Both of which are very important to me.

I firmly believe that there are no mistakes and that there are as many pros as cons to all options.  Today I realised how come I have picked the ‘right’ option for curly headed boy.  The option I have picked works for his high value on learning and friends.  Meanwhile, everything that I am concerned is ‘missing’, I (and big hairy northern hubby) have all the skills to fill in.  I love doing creative stuff, know how to support/encourage him when he is unconfident, can add some extra sports classes at my gym and he can do lots of sport with hubby.  Meanwhile, having had a chat with hubby yesterday, we can fill in the ‘life experiences’ with holidays that ensure he and little dimples gets a broad education.

So phew: that’s one thing sorted off my brain anyway!  It does feel very uncomfortable when in a situation that feels very opposite to your own values.  It’s about working out why it is, and then looking for the balance.  Mind you, I will keep my eyes open to options as he gets older, and not count out a ‘crazy gap year’ of our own oneday ;o)