Friday, March 02, 2007

Today's the day...

... When we find out what secondary school no 1 is going to go to.

Of course, if you have been paying attention to the news this week (which quite frankly must be dull as ditchwater for the majority of the population who don't have children changing schools), you would have thought we would have known yesterday.


As I suspected all along the magic date of 1 March was the day the letters got sent out.

Had I been brave enough to apply online (I wasn't - the stress of filling in a paper application nearly killed me, and had I cocked it up in anyway I decided that it wasn't worth risking a divorce over, so I played safe), I would of course know the answer by now.

Although the onliners didn't have it all their own way - by the end of school yesterday none of them had heard either.

Ironically, my best school run friend and I both had letters to say that our respective no 3s had got into the junior school. To our eternal shame, so preoccupied were we with the fate of our eldest offspring, we er, had both forgotten that their little sisters were changing school...

So anyway, here I am, and the LETTER has finally arrived, but I can't open it because I promised no 1 I wouldn't, so now it is sitting on the hall table burning a hole in it. Honestly. The tension of not knowing is worse then waiting for a positive response from an editor!

We are extremely fortunate, that in our case we have the choice (I use the word advisedly, as in alot of areas in our lives, New Labour had employed doublespeak to make us think we are making choices when in fact we are merely stating preferences. It is up the the powers that be to make the choice on our behalf) a good girl's school in the town we live in and an excellent grammar three miles away. I am assuming that we haven't got our third choice which ain't so great, as that will skew the game plan somewhat!

I don't want to get into a debate about the merits of selective schooling here, apart from to say if we all had a proper choice of good schools then the selective ones wouldn't need to exist.

I do, however, think that it is the right of every parent, be they rich, poor, middle class, working class, black, white, or little green aliens from Mars, to try to get their child into the school they think will benefit them most.

I am very fortunate to have bright children who study hard, and I wouldn't want any of them going into an environment where they were distracted by kids who come from families where those things don't matter as much.

In our town we have four secondary schools. One of each sex, and two mixed schools. There are no selective schools at all in Surrey. In fact, from what I can gather about Surrey's education policy the emphasis is so much on equality for all they seem to have forgotten that a) while we all want equality some kids are er actually brighter then others/sportier then others/more arty then others and b) there is nothing wrong with striving to be the best at what you do.

When I was at school we used to have a saying: Aim for the stars and you might hit a tree. Aim for a tree and you'll hit the ground.

Too often these days it seems to me, we all accept - or are told to accept - that aiming high is seen as A Bad Thing - particularly if you happen to be that pernicious thing, middle class. (And Oh, I am soooo sick of being made to feel guilty that I am middle class. It isn't my fault, honest, guv!)

Now I'm not saying that it is right for the middle classes to buy houses next to good schools and drive out the poorer families, because I don't think it is, but neither is it right that people should be made to feel bad if they want the best for their children.

Of the schools in our town, I would happily send the girls to the local girls's school (the head teacher endeared herself to me at the open day by saying at WHATEVER level children came into the school, the aim was to get each one to achieve her potential - quite right too), and one of the comprehensives. The boy's school is a mixed bag. I do know people who are happy with it. They have a good record on special needs, and I know one mum who is very anxious because she feels they will cope best with her son who has behavioural problems. But there are also dreadful stories about bullying, and while there is a fast track system for the brighter students, there's also a lot of stigma attached to that, so if you have a bright sensitive academic boy as several of my friends do, you really wouldn't want them going there. The other comprehensive is a sink school quite frankly, and no one should have to send their kids there at all.

The comprehensive school I would have considered (I would have had to put them down as first choice) is bang smack in the middle of a council estate. It has state of the art facilities, and could easily have become a very expensive failure. But by dint of choosing a proportion of children from each ward in the borough (surely the fairest way to ensure a mixed social group?), there is a good mix of different children and backgrounds. Of course we don't have the social problems of the inner cities here, but it's not all sweetness and light either. And the result of this particular school's policy has been to raise its standards and its profile, so now it is a much sought after school. But there's no point moving house to get your child in, as that won't help you in this instance.

I suppose whatever system is employed there will always be cries of Not Fair! Personally, I am alarmed at the idea that the situation in Brighton where a lottery has taken place (and from all accounts one that doesn't help the poorer families it was intended to), should be repeated elsewhere in the country (I do after all have to go through this process three more times), as it smacks of a particularly insidious type of social engineering. And all I can see it doing is making good schools worse and poor schools fail even more. Oooh, great, let's really dumb things down some more...

The problem at the heart of education in this country does seem to be that the idea of striving to better oneself has become a dirty concept. As if by wanting the best for your children you are some kind of heartless moneyed beast with no social conscience. And yet, the test my daughter sat was full of children from Asian families - they have no such moral qualms. And why should they? They want the best for their children too. And talking to a friend recently (who has four children by two different partners, lives in rented accommodation and grew up in a council house) about what she wanted for her kids, she wants the best for them too. She pushes them hard to try and achieve their best at whatever they set out to do. As any decent parent should.

It should be what everyone wants. But the sad fact is there are parents out there who don't give a flying f*** about their childrens' future, and failing schools are full of kids who don't give a stuff for authority (I'm not necessarily blaming them, they learn that behaviour somewhere), or about working hard to get on in life. No one would or should want to put their kids into an enviroment like that. So we have the catch twenty two of the failing schools being abandoned by the parents who do care (if they can afford to move away), or if they can't being stuck with their children getting a lousy education (there is one infamous school around here that is so poorly staffed the kids are only taught four days a week, which is scandalous), and the good schools being hugely oversubscribed. In that situation someone is always going to be disappointed. Our children only have one shot at an education, is it any wonder that the more unscrupulous of the middle classes bend the rules to get the best for their kids?

The scandal is that in a country like ours, in the 21st century, after ten years of a Labour government, we have any failing schools at all.

We should all have a proper choice about our children's education.

And that choice should be that every child in the country has the option of going to a good school and having a decent stab at getting an education, irrespective of class, colour, creed or finances.

But sadly, I think we're a long way from achieving it.

1 comment:

Nic said...

I thought the lottery system might not be too bad – having waded through the admissions process from the Governor’s point of view in the olden days when I worked in a church school, I thought it might be the fairest way to allocate 50 places amongst 100 children who were all at the same level in the policy.

But of course, I was only thinking from the teacher side, not the parent.

And wouldn’t it be awful if you had twins and they were allocated different schools?

Or even worse, the school didn’t have a sibling admission policy, so after No. 1 was allocated to X, No.2 was allocated to Y and No.3 to Z. That would be a bummer for hand-me downs.

And on another note entirely, I was horrified to hear of a parent near our school (and we are the affluent bit of Widnes, lots of professional ”pushy” “middle-class” parents) whose 16 year old daughter had just started a hairdressing apprenticeship – not because she wants to be a hairdresser, but because “she’s 16, she needs to get a job now, can’t have her staying on at school”