Monday, 25 January 2010

Convenient choices

Eldest went to 3 primary schools, and Youngest 2. One of these was the same school. We have been remiss, or lucky: they have also been our nearest school, and generally the only one we looked at. Eldest’s first school was the village primary in walking distance of home. The neighbours mostly chose the other village school (requiring a short drive), because it took the bulk of the military children and got better SATs results. The military children came from the military college, so their parents were arguably more able. Since some of these children were foreign, and all of them moved on biannually, if not annually, I questioned the statistics and chose the stability and convenience of the nearer school. It meant we met other local parents and children and could walk to events in school.
When we were posted to south east London we were lucky in getting a quarter in north east Kent. (In London the perceived wisdom was that you needed to get your children into the church schools, and the over subscription meant a letter from your vicar was essential, and, as only occasional attendees this was not a possibility.) Of the nearest schools, all of which needed a car journey, we opted for the pair most of the parents on the patch had chosen so that we’d get to know our neighbours and be able to share lifts. The Infant school (for Youngest) had an outstanding OfSTED; the Junior (for Eldest) did not. For 2 ½ years Youngest soared and Eldest got bored. I spent a great deal of time complaining that she wasn’t progressing and was told she was marvelous: she sat quietly and read a book when she finished her excellent work and caused no fuss. But she had local friends, and was happy, just bored by school. And we would move again!
The future beckoned and we decided we needed to send the girls to boarding school or buy a house. We couldn’t do both, and the military grants would cease before both girls were through school, so we purchased a house. We knew where we wanted to settle; we researched the local secondary schools and shopped in the catchment area of one of several good schools in North Wiltshire. We viewed a house and primary school in our two favourite villages and settled on one. The house was more affordable and the school more welcoming. The deal was done.
The small school size (45 pupils) meant that they went into mixed age-group classes; Eldest with 7-11(Key Stage 2) and Youngest with 4-7(Key Stage 1). Youngest’s teacher was not the best and our daughter had a lovely time playing and making no academic progress whatsoever. Her predicted excellent KS1 results (from the previous school) passed her by. But Eldest flew! Because of the mixed ages everyone had different work to do so she didn’t stand out as odd, and her job-sharing teachers always challenged her to do more. When Youngest moved up to the KS2 class the caring yet challenging ethos worked the same magic on her and she too learned to fly. But our choice of the village school had other consequences. The people we met as a result were pleased that we had committed ourselves to the village by choosing ‘their’ school. They were local so there were opportunities for walk/lift sharing to events in and out of the village. All the children would go to the same secondary school: they go on the same bus and we know at least those parents. In a big centralized secondary school you don’t even know the children they’re making friends with, never mind the parents. Just like everyone else, children will pick up (and drop) friends along the way.
They are now both at the planned secondary school and doing well in their different ways. Both are making new friends and have largely moved on from the smaller possibilities of their primary. Imagine if we had chosen the secondary based only on where their friends were going! I don’t know if we will have got it right in the long run, but for our family so far so good.
My purpose is not to be smug! I am trying to suggest that there are many consequences of choosing a school, and they are not all about academic achievement! If you don’t choose your local school you run the risk that your child’s friends (so perhaps yours) will also live elsewhere. If it is in a different catchment to your residence, the long term consequence may be that your child wants to go with her friends to their secondary school (which may or may not be possible). Once again you won’t have options to share a lift home from after school activities, to and from performance activities and so on. Happiness isn’t just about your child, it’s also about you! Deciding not to move your child from their pre-school where you used to live because they’d miss their friends is the first step on the never having their friends near your home! From pre-school, to primary and on to secondary every decision will have far reaching consequences, and they’re not just about education.

No comments: