Monday, 22 September 2008

Open season

I have posted before about the excitement that surrounds schooling in Nappy Valley, explaining how, because we look set to escape to the US next year, I have been rather immune to the stress and bother of worrying about schools for Littleboy 1.

That’s still true, but in the back of my mind was a little niggling concern about having no back up plan – particularly as school Open Day season arrives and friends' children start to go off to 'interviews' and the like. I started to wonder what would happen if it all fell through, and we don’t go abroad. Having failed to move house to be nearer to good state primaries, we would potentially be resigned to sending Littleboy 1 to our nearest school (a place whose Ofsted report is not, shall we say, exactly glowing.) So I decided on a whim to send off for the application form of a local private school - one of the few that doesn’t require you to sign up while they’re still a foetus.

The form itself is a fairly straightforward, until it comes to the section in which you’re asked to describe your child’s ‘hobbies…interests….musical instruments played and grades achieved’.

Littleboy 1 is 3 and a quarter. How, I asked The Doctor, do we describe the hobbies of a 3 year old?“Hitting his little brother over the head?” he helpfully suggests. “Riding his scooter like a maniac around Clapham Common?”

Reading the prospectus through, we ascertain that not only is the school academically selective, but it receives at least 10 applications for each place. What, then, would make him stand out? We begin fantasising about what we could write on the form…. “Littleboy 1 is familiar with the early sonatas of Beethoven, although has not quite grasped the complexities of the later works.” “He has recently shown a strong interest in the Large Hadron Collider”. “His prowess at building Lego towers suggests a future Norman Foster....”.

In the end we decide that I should go along to the Open Day in order to decide whether this was really for us. We thought it best not to take the Littleboys (knowing they would just run around screaming) so instead, The Doctor took them to the park while I went along by myself. However, as I followed the considerable crowd to the school gate, it quickly dawned on me that I was the ONLY parent to have pitched up alone. Everyone else was there en famille, many with small babies in prams, as well as the toddlers angling for next year’s entry (who were no doubt already on Grade 4 violin). As a result, the place was mayhem – when the Head Teacher gave a talk, you could hardly hear a word above the din of small children wailing.

After that, I walked around alone like Mrs No-Mates, tagging along on other people's guided tours and feeling as if everyone else was staring and wondering where my children and partner were. (There's something about schools that makes me nervous, as if you might get sent to stand outside the Head's office if you say the wrong thing.)

I wanted to buttonhole a teacher and ask about the ‘hobbies’, but other parents kept getting in there before me. “How much do they use computers?” asked one woman fiercely. “Because I really, really don’t approve of children in junior school using computers all the time.” (The teacher’s eyes flickered warily to the two large Apple Macs in the corner before she fudged the answer diplomatically). Another Dad wanted to know why some parents chose to send their kids at 4 and others and 7. What was the reasoning behind such a decision? (Hmm, could it be something to do with the fees? I was wondering).

Afterwards, I went to join The Doctor and Littleboys in the park. What was my verdict? he asked. “Lovely school, nice pupils,” I said: “But not sure I could put up with the other parents...”

The form is still sitting on my desk......


Jaywalker said...

I hear you, Valley Girl. Been there, paid the thousand pound deposit, self-flagellated about sacrifice of my principles, dry hurled at the horror of the uniform, laughed at the ghastly parentzillas. Then moved to Belgium. Oops! Adieu, £1000.

But hey, at least they don't have to wear pork pie hats.

Iota said...

I'm glad it's not only me who feels like I'm going to be sent to see the Head whenever I'm in school. Whenever I've helped at something, lunch duty or whatever, and a child has asked me a question, it's been a shock to realise that they think I'm the authority figure. And then you have to fake it.

The school here is the thing I would miss most if/when we return to the UK. It's private but SO much more affordable (about a third of the cost or less of equivalent in UK), no uniform, not snooty, not overly competitive (once you've worked out which mums to avoid), caring of the children rather than their results, etc etc. Hope your US experience is the same.

At least the parents had noisy children. I thought you were going to say that you were glad you hadn't taken yours because all the other ones were perfectly behaved, sitting quietly reading books in a corner whilst their undisturbed parents talked to the staff.

Potty Mummy said...

I would complete the form, and not worry about the hobbies (though something like 'very interested in Animals, fresh air and engineering' could easily cover off a recent farm visit, for example?). Having spoken to a number of teachers about this, the one thing they say about the assessments is that they are too find out mainly if a child is 'socialised' (i.e. plays nicely with others, without using teeth), and is teachable. Not the best, the brightest, the geniuses, but a child that will fit in, learn well, and be a credit to the school. I'm sure you son will be fine - and it's always good to have a back-up plan!

Potty Mummy said...

PS - I have a friend who's daughter went to an assessment at a very academic school and came home with her pants in a bag. Not the best start, you might think.

But guess what - offered a place, started there 2 weeks ago, loved it.

And I can spell 'to', too!

Mom/Mum said...

Backup plans are always good. fill in the form and I think Potty Mummy has the wording nailed for you!
Just think, if you come to USA, you wont have to worry about all that as I think nationwide, they dont start kindergarten until they are 5/6. So more time home with your Littleboys? is that a good or bad thing? I sometimes wonder!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Ha! I didn't go to see our private schools around us, as I knew the facilities would far outweigh the state offerings. And as we can't afford two in private school, why dangle a carrot in fromt of my face! Plus, my principles struggle slightly. I am torn, ooh I am torn. I think though, it's a bit like looking at houses, when you walk into a school where you can imagine your boys, you will just know it, be it private or state! Good luck - here's hoping for America, eh?

Millennium Housewife said...

Realy looking forward to you blogging about moving to the US, so if you could just get on with it? Lovely. MH

Expat mum said...

"Loves being read to" - always a safe bet.
And I hate to scare you, but if you decide to go the private route (pronounced Rowt) in the US, many schools make you start them at 4, even tho' it's technically still nursery school age over here. They tell you that if you don't get them in at 4, there probably won't be a place for them. And it's true. It's nightmare here in Chicago because more and more people are staying in the city, but the spots in the private schools haven't really increased. Last year, after the siblings all got their places, there were 5 spots for 250 applicants. Agh!

The Dotterel said...

And don't be put off the state primary on the strength of a lukewarm Ofsted. - that might say more about the inspection team than the school. (Honestly, you should see some of the school they rate 'Outstanding'!)

chris said...

A bloke's perspective: schools and childbirth seem to be the two areas where women are *not* supportive to each other but go out of their way to scare the living h*ll out of each other!

In nappyvalley there are boatloads of great schools, both private and state. Can't get into the right state school? Send your children to the nearest and then shift them at six to the one you want - the annual migration to the country frees up places everywhere in years two upwards. Thats what my less-affluent friends have done.

My kids are in a brilliant private school but I am very aware that the money we spend is really so that we can watch the little darlings toddle off in cute uniforms looking like extra's from the Famous Five. The education at Beatrix, Honeywell and Belleville is easily as good.

Love the blog!


valley girl said...

Jaywalker, sounds like you had a lucky escape despite the £1000. (Actually the uniform was one thing that didn't faze me - but then I went to a school where we wore appalling cloaks and ghastly boaters...)

Hi Iota - thanks for the encouragement re US schools, in typical fashion I have not even started to investigate them but this sounds promising. And yes, the other children were thankfully just as badly behaved as my own which does give me hope!

Thanks for the advice PM, and I am sure you're right - how else they can possibly pick out 'academic' kids at age 4 I don't know. (Love the pants in bag story - that will be us, Littleboy 1 until very recently came home virtually every day with a sodden pair of trousers in his nursery bag).

Hi Mom/Mum, I'll probably want him to go somewhere for a few days a week, even if not working, just for my sanity! But quite glad if he doesn't start actual school, as he's young for his year anyway...

CTTF, know the feeling, it does feel a bit like window shopping in Bond St! I've got my fingers crossed for the US, though.

MH, you'll have to wait for a bit, I'm afraid - we're now taking about a May 09 start date....

Expat Mum, sounds like US cities are similar to UK then - same old story.....

Dottorel, my sister is a teacher and says just the same. (Mind you, I pass the local school almost every day and it doesn't give me great encouragement from the outside...)

Chris, I'm glad you like the blog - it's great to have another local reader. Your advice sounds good - mind you if I lived in your area of Nappy Valley, I would gladly opt for the state schools, sadly we are a little further away!

that girl ? said... all takes me back to nearly weeing my pants outside the head mistresses office! Why are schools so scary? I rang our local village one the other day to get forms to register Small Child and the admissions manager made me feel like I'd done something naughty by just even daring to call! Can't wait for parents evenings in years to come!

Susanna said...

Good luck with the schools! I have some friends that have limited their offspring so they can afford school fees. Go figure.

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