Thursday 19 May 2011


Having worked in parenting PR for the last 5 years, I have read a lot about parents. All the new trends, the crazy products, the mumzillas. I've read it all and laughed at a lot of it. Including the stories about those parents who put their child's name on a school's waiting list while it was still in the womb.

When I was pregnant, I worried about whether they sold gaviscon in 5 litre bottles and how the hell I was going to get an 8lb baby out of a space not designed for something that size. Then once the baby arrived, I worried about ever sleeping again and what it would take to stop it from crying. Eventually once the haze of new motherhood cleared, I worried about going back to work and what I'd do with the baby.

It was only really when they started going to pre-school and I had to think about what happened next, that I thought about school. And at the time, it was a fairly easy decision. We couldn't afford private schooling. We had a good local school. Bob's your uncle. Fanny's your aunt. Bish bash bosh. And that was the decision made.

Fast forward three years. Child 1 is now approaching the end of year 2. Child 2 is approaching the end of reception. And they're doing ok. Sure child 1 spells everything phonetically, but he can read and seems fairly bright. And sure child 2 cannot hold a pencil properly and his handwriting is more handscrawl, but he's terrific at mental maths.

I've not thought about whether the school is good enough. They seem to be doing fine. But what the hell do I know? I got 5 Cs and a D when I matriculated.

Yet recently I chatted to someone who said that they were sending their children to private school from year 3 and that in fact lots of people did that. Really? Who knew? Not me, the Johnny Foreigner. And it was as though someone had suddenly said: 'Oi, wake up lady'.

So we had a chat, husband and I. We agreed that ideally we'd like to send our children privately for secondary school but to keep them in the local school for primary. It keeps them and us part of the community, it's a three minute walk, it's free (giving us time to save up) and it's got really small class sizes.

But then I found out that really there aren't that many private secondary schools within reach of us and even fewer that are remotely affordable. In fact there's one. Just one independent school I would like them to go to. After another chat, I found out that everyone in the area felt the same. That that is indeed the only independent school nearby that is affordable and good. As a result it is fairly selective about who it takes and it is pretty academic.

All of a sudden our plan of keeping them in the state primary seemed not that great. And all of a sudden it put a massive amount of pressure on us to investigate prep schools because year 3 is a good time to start at a prep. Later they've got even more catching up to do and they stand out as the new kid.

But the prep school will add a huge amount to the total schooling bill. It is a hell of a trek to get to. It really is my least favourite option. But it would almost certainly guarantee them a place in the secondary school. Unlike the 50% chance they have as a state school kid.

Yes folks, in column A we have a pretty certain future that our children will receive an excellent public school boy education but we will never be able to travel again, we'll live largely on beans, have a 2 hour commute each day for me to drop and fetch boys, and we'll probably never retire. And in column B we have being part of the local community, a 3 minute walk to school, spare cash for holidays and emergencies but only 50% chance that they'll get into the private secondary even with lots of private tuition at home. If they don't, we do have a good state secondary. But there really is no comparison between the two.

So here I sit, with a decision to make that really needs to be taken wisely. It's as though the blinkers have come off, the blinkers that those mothers who were pre-registering their newborns seemed to know about. Where the hell did they learn about it, huh? Is there a book somewhere called: How to give your child the perfect education from the moment they're conceived. There probably is. I'm glad I didn't know about it as I would have been even more neurotic about it than I am now.

Just when you think this parenting lark gets easier, wham! You're hit with the next big thing.

More wine vicar? Yes please.


About Last Weekend said...

Yes one should be listening to fancy music and read Tolstoy whilst preggers. I lay around all day and ate watermelon and Indian food and read trashy mags so no wonder my first boy strives only to be average. (Which actually is much better than I ever did academically) Funnily enough all the friends we met when back in London for the week were totally freaked out about schools. An acquantaince (parent of toddlers) said they visited Harrow and his wife said: "He's going here - let's work backwards"

Nicola said...

Oh God, I have hated reading this post! My boys were at private school in Chicago (The British School of Chicago) and it was all I knew. I assumed the educational rigour was standard. Thought that the 7 year old's progress, in particular, was normal.

They have now been in state school for 5 months and there is a world of difference. I love their little school, but it is obvious they are not getting the educational attention that they received at the private school. And it concerns me.

I really hated the fact that at the private school all the parents had so much money. We couldn't keep up with the holidays / the houses / the socialising. It made me feel inadequate. Some of the parents were so pushy and competitive and on principle I didn't want the boys to grow up in that environment.

Now, however, I am wondering whether we might have to consider private education again and it's killing me. I haven't mentioned a dicky bird about this to Ex because of course one of my arguments for moving home was the free education...

There is a good state comprehensive in the area...but is it good enough? Do we spend any spare money on school fees or on supplementing their education and bringing it to life with travel/trips?

I still don't have anything near resembling an answer right now.

Home Office Mum said...

ABout last weekend - its parents like that who do my head in

Nicola - we've decided to leave ours at state for primary. Will revisit once they approach secondary. I want to be able to give my children live experiences too, which I'll only be able to do if we can afford to do them!

Women Books Coffie said...

I enjoyed reading your posst