It sometimes feels like I took my eye off the ball for just a minute and my little boy grew up. One minute he was a cute 4 year old starting school, the next he was 10. It feels like he’s as tall as me. I can wear his shirts and Tshirts and we wear the same size socks.
Now we have to make the biggest choice of his life so far. We have to decide which secondary school we would like him to go to. I use the words ‘choice’ and ‘decide’ quite loosely, because we can say what we would like, but in the end his future is in someone else’s hands.
Although technically catchment areas don’t really exist, we are in the catchment area for three schools – one good and two crap. I went to the good school myself and really want my son to go there. Back in the day, kids in our village automatically went to that school, now there are no guarantees.
At first the whole idea made me feel sick. I tried to put it to the back of my mind, not read the letters, make it go away. But, hard as I tried, it was still occupying my thoughts and dominating my conversations. So much was riding on the one school.
I’m pleased to say that things aren’t as bad as I thought. I went to a talk by the head of one of the ‘crap’ schools and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a crap school at all. The results are on the up, the kids are well-behaved and the pastoral care is fantastic.
It’s a smaller school and that could work for my son. They value kids like my son and reward them. It’s easy for kids like him to sail under the radar unnoticed – a well-behaved boy who is above average academically, but is never going to set the world on fire.
It’s a viable alternative. It may even be, shock horror, a first choice.
But then I saw it and I was all unsettled again. The building is dreadful. But it’s in a nice area, with a big sports field.
The third school is uncharted territory. It’s a new school with some good new ideas, but it has inherited some kids and some issues from previous schools. In five years, it could be great, but should I take the risk on it now? The building is FABULOUS. It doesn’t feel like a school at all. A great building will influence the kids’ behaviour and learning.
The first choice is a no-brainer. The second choice is difficult. A decent school in a crap building, or a new school that could be great, but isn’t yet, in an amazing building?
I’m leaving the decision up to my son, because it’s just too close to call for me. The main thing is I am confident that he will do well whichever school he ends up at. He’ll be in top or second sets, so shouldn’t be troubled by the worst behaved kids, and he will try his hardest. Maybe he will even make the school rugby team (!).
A lot of parents I know are struggling with grammar school issues. Round here the grammars are ultra-selective. They take something like the top 5%. Apparently other areas with grammars take around 25%.
I took the decision when my son was in year 3 not to go for grammar school. Top 25% would be worth a go. Top 5% really isn’t. My son doesn’t like learning, particularly writing. He doesn’t need the pressure of tutoring to try to get him through an exam he will fail. And, to be honest, nor do I.
Better to let him go to a good comprehensive and thrive.
That’s not to say people haven’t questioned my decision, including not only his friends’ parents, but my own husband, parents and my sister and brother-in-law, who are both primary school teachers. None of them, not even my husband, know him like I do. I’m the one who sits with him as he does (or doesn’t do) his homework. I know what he can and can’t do and how he reacts to work and pressure.
So we’re not going for grammar, but at least all our eggs aren’t in the same basket. We just need to work out exactly how we are going to arrange our baskets.