Sunday, 27 July 2008

School's out

Littleboy 1 is only just 3, but already we are supposed to be getting into a tizz about schools.

The trials and tribulations of schooling in Nappy Valley have been well-documented; not least by the brilliant, local writer John O’Farrell in his excellent book May Contain Nuts (which has apparently been filmed as an ITV drama series to be shown later this year).

While this is not, I realise, a problem unique to this area, there do seem to be a few issues. Clapham has the highest birth rate in Europe – but contrary to popular belief, that’s not just down to the proliferation of yummy mummies; it also has high numbers of single mothers and low income families. As a consequence, it seems the ‘good’ primary schools are hopelessly over-subscribed. Meanwhile, the private options either require you to put their names down as soon as you conceive, or demand that your four year old child pass some terrifying entrance interview. Terrible tales abound, and around the age of 2 everyone starts panicking and putting their kids’ names down for hundreds of different schools – exacerbating the problem.

Take a sample of my local friends (none of whom are Nuts by the way, but on the contrary very intelligent women, not at all snobbish, and nice to boot). One is so worried about her daughter not getting into a good state school that she has started attending church every week, so as to pass through the pearly gates of a sought-after C of E school. So guilt-ridden was she by this whole scenario, my friend confessed, that she and her partner had to visit the pub and ‘down several pints’ following their first Sunday service.

Another is fretting that she lives just that little bit too far away from the ‘good’ state schools, but is worrying about whether her child will get into the highly competitive private school round the corner. And a third has a series of cunning schemes up her sleeve, involving putting names down for one school, then whipping the children out as soon as someone moves house and a place becomes available elsewhere.

So what, you might ask, have I done? To the disbelief of most local mummies, nothing. As a vaguely leftish hack, ever-optimistic about our Labour government, I was hoping that an excellent local state school would materialise by the time Littleboy 1 reached 5. And if it hadn’t, I reasoned, we would probably have moved by now anyway. I therefore have a scant knowledge of the local state and private schools, whereas my contemporaries could probably pass a GCSE in the subject.

Well, we haven’t managed to move house, but luckily for me a superb escape route has presented itself – leave the country. Yes, The Doctor has been offered the opportunity to work in the US, starting in a year’s time, just at the point that Littleboy 1 would be starting school. So now when everyone excitedly asks me what are we Doing About Schools, I can opt out of the conversation - and not have to confess that I am a Rubbish Mother Who Has Done Nothing.


A Confused Take That Fan said...

How exciting going to the lucky thing. Anywhere nice?
I have just done the whole school thing and being a bit of a lefty myself went for my nearest state school, which doesn't have the highest grades but has a 'nice feel about it'. Hopefully she won't be smoking crack aged 6.

Anonymous said...

Wow - the US! Where abouts? If you haven't already check out: for some thoughts of a women undertaking the same advanture.

The Dotterel said...

The length's some people go to...! Seriously, the single biggest factor in a child's educational success is parental interest and involvement. Studies all over the world prove that! So although a good school is important, you've already passed the test by being interested. It really is that simple.

Tara@From Dawn Till Rusk said...

I got all stressed out over the school thing when my son started last September. Seriously, it's horrible if you can't get in the school you want (we didn't), nor the other local schools (we didn't) and he ended up at a school 6 miles away which was in a lovely village, just a longish drive away. Now he's been there a whole school year, I have since learned that some of the mums at our original choice school are really unhappy with it, and the school he is at is brilliant and the mums couldn't be nicer.
All that stress for nothing!

Millennium Housewife said...

Excellent. We need more of us who do nothing, let's start a club MH

valley girl said...

CTTF, I am sure you made the right decision - my sister is a teacher and says Ofsted reports are all rubbish anyway.

Thanks for the advice, Mud (and by the way, I am enjoying your blog). The destination in question is New York State - Long Island to be precise - am thinking of renaming the blog Diaper Island when the time comes...

Wise advice, Dotterel, and reassuring to hear from someone who knows all about matters educational.

Tara, I've heard similar tales from a number of people - many saying they wish they'd saved themselves all that worry.

And MH, a club sounds like a great idea. Maybe the Slow School Movement (a bit like Slow Food?).

Potty Mummy said...

Great strategy VG - and excellent blogging opportunities!
As for the school thing; we too did nothing until Boy #1 was 3. This rather concentrates the mind and allows you to focus though, since it does knock half the contenders out at one fell swoop. As you say, their waiting lists were full with parents who had registered their children within 6 weeks of being born. (And I wonder if that then means these particular schools will be full of children with September and October birthdays?).

valley girl said...

PM, I think you could be right - I seem to recall another friend complaining that because her child was a spring birthday, he would stand less chance of getting in! Clearly one must conceive at Christmas and give birth in September if one's children are to stand any chance of academic success.

Iota said...

A friend of mine (teacher in posh private school) told me "you can't replace a good education". I'm glad to say we have more than managed it. The system in our particular city seems flexible: you can opt for your local school or for a "magnet school", ie one with a particular emphasis. For various reasons, we opted for the local private school, which is affordable in a way that it just isn't in the UK (ie we could put 3 through here for the cost of 1 in the UK, and no expensive uniforms and extras). Can't speak highly enough of the school (with the odd blip - no school is perfect), and it is the one thing I will miss hugely whenever we return to the UK.

There, was that encouraging?