So, it finally happened. There I was, sitting in Starbucks having coffee with my neighbour, who has children of a similar age to myself, when the conversation inevitably turned to schools (we are in the process of visiting some on behalf of Freddie, who starts next September). Two tables down, a couple of acquaintances I know from a playgroup joined in, and the chat continued to be peppered with words such as “catchment” and “Ofsted”, and discussion of the merits/non merits of certain educational establishments in our area. Crazy talk about people renting a house for 6 months near a decent school’s catchment area (I thought this was the stuff of urban myth). After about 15 minutes of this conversation, it dawned on me that I have become the person I previously would have run away from, screaming, or beat round the head with a copy of ‘The Good Schools Guide’, vowing never to become such a total ‘mum bore’ when I had kids. Wrong!
It’s that time of year again, where even the sanest of parents go totally cray-cray, agonising over which school to put down on the application form that could make or break their child’s educational future. Even when it doesn’t really matter that much anyway, when all the schools are pretty good, and even when the borough is oversubscribed, and you probably won’t have much of a say in the matter, you can see it. You can see the twitching and anxiety of ‘preschooler mum’, as soon as the subject is mentioned. Okay, so many parents have valid concerns, or are trying to avoid a poo school- after all, we want the best for our kids, right? What’s ridiculous is when even though, like us, all the schools in the area are pretty great, you realise you’ve still turned into a dick, agonising about the most trivial details when deciding which one will be numero uno on your list. Questions like: “Will a smaller 2 form entry school suit Freddie better, or the larger 3 form one?” (fair enough, a valid question). “Which school uniform do I like best?” (not so valid), or “Ooh, should we go for the one that does ‘Forest School’?” (what is that? We have no forests around here…).
Where we used to live in London when Freddie was a baby, our two nearest schools were a large, crappy, special-measures delight, and an Oustanding Catholic primary, where you could almost see the light bouncing off the children’s halos as they skipped into school each day. Heck, I was very close to finding God to ensure a place in the latter school, when I read the admissions criteria and realised we were several points down God’s educational pecking order, by 1: not actually being Catholic, quite a biggie and 2: we were unmarried parents, a definite no-no. Thankfully we moved house so didn’t actually have to seriously consider either option, but even back then I was considering doing all sorts of things to ensure F got into a decent one.
Like the loser I am, I actually had a sleepless night and vivid dreams last Thursday, all about bloody schools. Do we choose the nearest school to us that we really like and can walk to, or the one that we LOVE but is a bit further away and might not get in to anyway? I know they all make friends even if they start knowing no one, but would F be better going to the school that most of his little preschool friends will be going to (he’s quite a sensitive chap) even though it’s the further away one? Do we put 6 choices down and risk getting the bottom one that we really don’t want? Or just put 3 down, and run the risk of getting none of these and being sent to a school the other side of the borough that no one wants to go to, and whose playground activity depicts a war zone. I realised I was starting to lose the plot slightly, when I messaged my best friend (who happens to live quite near me and is also in the midst of the schools selection process), and asked her to rank in order of preference all the schools she had been to see. HELLO! CRAZY LADY IN THE BUILDING!
To be honest, I don’t know why I’m fretting anyway. I’ve always held the belief that as long as you are loving and the sort of involved parent who reads to your children and stuff, they will do just fine wherever they are. Thankfully, we only have about 6 more weeks of this misplaced middle class parental hysteria to endure, when application deadlines are hit, and it’s taken out of our hands and into the lap of the council gods (no amount of money would make me want that job, such a ballache to work out who will go where, I’ve always wondered how they do it).
Parents can then calm down sufficiently, safe in the knowledge that there is nothing more than can be done…until next April, where the wait for that email to come through will inevitably send blood pressure in the ‘burbs rising once more…
Are you choosing a school right now? Or have you been through this process before?
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