Sunday, 13 January 2013

Frankenstein's hallway (and other misadventures in education)

One reason for our trip to the UK was to make arrangements for the Littleboys' schooling. As we won't be in London until August and the chances of getting a place at a good state school at that time of year seem rather slim, I'd registered them for a couple of private schools in the area where we are hoping to live. At least, I reasoned, if they got a place there that would be one less worry about the move back.

But this being London, it isn't just a case of registering and stumping up for the fees - entry is highly competitive and involves assessments and interviews and tests. The boys are both doing fine academically at their own school, but, having been educated in the US system where school begins a year later than in England and takes a while to catch up, they were not exactly fully prepared for this ordeal. In spite of our attempts to home-tutor them with Carol Vorderman's "Maths Made Easy" for the past few months, there was still a lot of ground we hadn't covered.

And it wasn't just a case of having never done fractions or not knowing the metric system; the whole culture of primary education over here is different. For example it only started to dawn on me the day before Littleboy 1's first interview that he had never, in fact, sat a test before. He expressed surprise, for example, that the work he was doing would be timed. "What happens if you don't have time to do all the answers?" he asked, bewildered. I had to break it to him that he would lose marks if that happened. I also had to point out that if he worked out his maths answers out loud, as he is prone to do, it might not be such a good idea. "Will there be other boys there then?" he asked. "Oh, I thought it would just be me....".

Knowing that the exam side might be tricky, I had tried to impress on the boys that they should talk about their extra curricular activities in the interview. They should, I emphasised, mention swimming, football and, especially for Littleboy1, piano lessons. While I don't want to turn into one of those pushy London mums, I felt sure that everyone else's little darlings would have been coached to boast about their many talents, and my boys would need to differentiate themselves in some way. Littleboy 1 is (truly) good at the piano, and while the school wasn't interested in hearing him play, at least he could talk about it.  "Tell them about your concert in Manhattan at the Steinway hall," I told him. "That's something that little boys in London won't have done!" (He did indeed perform at the Steinway showroom in December, as part of a concert arranged by his piano teacher, on a very luxurious grand piano).

Afterwards, we asked him about the interview and enquired whether he had remembered to mention the piano. "Oh yes," he said. "But I forgot the name of the place. So I said I had played in Frankenstein's Hallway on a $98,000 piano."

We had to laugh. But my sense of humour failed a little when he related the next incident. The teacher had asked him to tell a joke, probably as a result of him mentioning that he liked jokes. For some reason best known to himself, he chose to tell a knock knock joke that a) didn't make sense and b) involved the words "Grandma, get your butt out of here"! His claim that the teacher had laughed did not exactly make me feel better.

What with that, and the fact that he said the most interesting part of the day was the "giant sausage" he got given to eat at lunch, I am not holding my breath. Meanwhile, Littleboy 2 gave nothing much away about his one on one assessment; all I know is that when the teacher came to get him, she asked where he lived in America. "By the seaside," he told her. Top marks for geography!


Michelloui | The American Resident said...

You're right, London is stupidly competitive and even out in the provinces where I am it's a bit like that. I thought I would be 'different' and not be one of 'those mums' so although I encouraged and supported my daughter I never prepped her for the competition that entry to senior school would be. Of course, that was a mistake. She still got in, but it felt like it was by the skin of her teeth. It WAS the senior school attached to the prep school where she attended so I felt it was the prep school's job to prep her for it's own senior school. But when faced with all the expensive tutoring and extra music lessons and extensive family holidays all over the world etc that other kids did, her CV looked rather weak.

Anyway, Frankenstein's Hallway is completely hilarious and I would accept a kid to my school based on that phrase alone!! I'm eating cereal and I almopst spat it out when I read that. I love kids. I'll bet the interviewer loved it, even if she had no idea what he meant.

Also, having stated all of my complaint above, school interviews are more about seeing how well the kids will fit in with that school's culture, not joke-telling prowress. And to be honest, if they don't think your child will fit in, as a parent I wouldn't want my child there anyway! But I can see your dilemma and how you need to get a place sorted so you know you've got somewhere. From all that you've said on your blog, both Littleboys sound like lovely, friendly, happy boys who will fit in anywhere. x

Kit said...

The whole process sends shivers of horror down my spine! Can't believe that schools are so competitive for entrance even at such a young age. Good luck with getting yours sorted - I'm sure it is character rather than test results that swing the day and yours have plenty of that!

Clare Taylor said...

So interesting to read bearing in mind we're constantly turning this issue over in minds at present. Not sure what the answer is - apart from (most probably) putting it off for yet another year...

Nota Bene said...

I love their performances! Must be a little stressful, but they're quite charming young men, so I'm sure that will carry them a long way

Expat mum said...

Argh - one reason why I left my kids in the US system and didn't push to move back. That, and the SATs they have to sit every five minutes.
Anyway, good luck. I know they will end up at the school that best fits them.

Muddling Along said...

So so familiar, except ours had to do their first entrance test aged three and a half... not ideal really

Am sure it'll be fine, private school entries are down and at least you are spared the state school scrum for places

Good luck

nappy valley girl said...

Michelloui - thanks - they are friendly little boys, I hope the school will appreciate that!

Kit - I agree, it is not a nice process. Does put me off living back in London in some ways.

Clare - If I could put it off a year, I probably would too...

NB - thank you! let's hope so

Expat Mum - yes, it's all a lot easier here in some ways.

Muddling Along - Littleboy 1 had an interview at 3 before we went to the States. He didn't get in, and the school told me he seemed 'overwhelmed' by the occasion. For God's sake, I felt like telling them - he's three!!

mtfF said...

I LOVE Frankenstein's hallway. What an absolute star. It's such a worry about where our kids will be schooled, but don't fret too much. My little sisters came to the UK (admittedly quite a few years ago) and went into private schools when one was 4 and one was 6 and neither could read and they were far behind the other kids, but within a year they were caught up and even ahead of some of the others. I'm sure that the schools understand this and are looking for happy, cooperative kids who are adaptable (yours clearly are) and easy to get along with. London is a challenge with children - every time I go back to visit I feel tired at the thought of it - but I envy you living back in 'my town' again. I'm homesick! Boys will be fine, wherever you end up. BTW my sisters went to Thomas's in Battersea - don't know if you've looked at that or if it even still exists but it was quite a nice little school and they did well.

nappy valley girl said...

MTff - Thomas's does still exist and in fact I have friends who send their kids there. It's a little far west for where we want to live now, but I have heard very good things about it.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Best of luck. Done all the interviews and it always works out - eventually... Enjoy your last months. It's so hard when you've a countdown, but friendships are subject to flux, there are so many more factors than where you live. Not that location isn't a huge thing, but what's so wonderful about life is meeting new people and enjoying their company. Thank goodness we don't have a 'one in/one out' policy!