Choosing schools

October 8, 2013

The school photo from the year they were first all there - 1996

The school photo from the year they were first all there – 1996

Oh the agony of choosing the first school. The angst. The middle class class stress of already thinking will it get them to Oxbridge. The leftists stress of is it abandoning principles if we go private? The liberal stresses of is it being racist if we don’t want to go to a school where they’ll be a minority? The right wing stress of wondering if all the council-estate children will be doing drugs.

Ah yes, we do well to be reminded of Malala, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot for daring to go to school. We West London middle class parents get het up about minor fluff,  – the possible differences between two or three reasonable schools – whilst others have no education at all.

But of course that counts for nowt when you actually come to put your darling first born’s name down for a school. Which one does one choose? I had been to two primary schools; one in Scotland, one in Wales. No more than 100 pupils in either school. No dark skinned faces. Everything was pristine in 1960s rural primaries.  And so it was that I walked in to the local school that was apparently where lots of nice people sent their children. Being able to walk to school was one of the key requirements of a primary school for me so that once they got to 8 they could walk home on their own and start getting some independence.

The first school i went to see  was easy walking distance but a bit further than the not-so-nice-a-bit rough-round-the edges-one that was just round the corner. I felt at home straight away. It felt like where I had been to school. And I had forgotten how small the desks and chairs are. It was like walking in to Gulliver’s Travels.

I had got no further than the hallway as I tried to find the school office when a teacher came bustling towards me. “You can’t come in here with them,” she told me, “You’ll have to leave them outside.” You might be thinking I had brought a couple of Alsatians with me. Or some exploding fireworks or other health hazard, but you’d be wrong. She was referring to my two children who were with me. One aged two (as we were looking for him to start Nursery at 3) and his baby sister who was one. “We’ve come to look round the Nursery,” I explained. “I did call ahead and was told to come now.” “Yes, but you can’t bring the children. Have you not got someone you can leave them with?”she asked,

I didn’t really feel there was much point in going any further. I couldn’t believe it and took against the school in that instant. It seemed children were not the number one priority and she would have been happy for me to leave our children unattended outside whilst I was allowed to come and see the Nursery. No thanks. Hubby did go to the Parents Q and A evening which only confirmed our decision not to apply there as he said there was far too much emphasis on private tuition and homework for these tiny bubs. He didn’t think we would find it reflected our vision of school being about having a good time in those first few years.

In contrast, I went to try to visit the rough school round the corner and walked in to a building. Two children came up and asked me if i needed help and directed me to the Headteacher’s office. Another child held the door open for me on the way out. There was noise and laughter and a lot of brown faces. It seemed like this would be good enough and it’s where they went.

Bad Hair Day circa 1997

Bad Hair Day circa 1997

Yes, it wasn’t the best school ever but it did have its strengths in some great teachers a a celebration of diversity.

Bangra dancing

Bangra dancing

nursery 1991/2

nursery 1991/2

Christian celebrations

Christian celebrations

oct 064

Nursery performance 1995

They all learnt to read and write and did songs and poems and plays. And we met lifelong friends there. All of us, not just the children.

I still think home is the most important factor during those early school years. The advantage of having parents who read with you, or talk to you can’t be underestimated. The early years at school are as much about socialising and conforming as they are about reading and writing. And I think if you get a good feel for the place when you walk in; that the endeavour is right and it has a heart, then that’s half the battle. Where it is in the league table may be more a reflection of its intake than the ability of the teachers.

And anything they don’t learn at primary can easily be caught up in the first few years of high school if you are above average intelligence. Which, you may remember one of ours was not thought to be. ,


One Response to “Choosing schools”

  1. Sarah N Says:

    Yep. Primary school round the corner and secondary school across the town (walking distance, even for teenagers) did it for us! And they seem to have come out OK.

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