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School of thought



One of the things that I will never quite understand about being a Dad is the balance between the inner me and the outer me.  More precisely, how far I can let the inner me show in matters relating to my kids, their wellbeing and their future.  Decisions that you would instinctively take as an individual suddenly lead to big internal flashing lights and alarm bells, “BEWARE THE INNER YOU IS AT LARGE, DO NOT APPROACH, HE IS KNOWN TO BE CRANKY AND RECALCITRANT”.

At the moment we’re looking towards big school for my eldest, a journey that he will undertake in September 2011 but which for some unknown reason, relating to bureaucracy and the necessity for an EU prescribed number of tea breaks in a Lunar Calendar year, needs to be dealt with by the end of this month.  This constitutes a nightmare of epic proportions for middle class families around the country as we come to terms with the fact that the promised choice we are supposed to have is less than presented by Hobson on a bad day. And of course, being middle class parents we beat ourselves up about it thinking that we should have; worked harder, earned more, bought that nice house next to the nice school, never had kids, married the au pair [delete as appropriate].

In many ways we are lucky, there is the local school, the local boys’ school or the local independent school to “choose” from.  The local school is currently “under special measures”, a euphemism that leaves little to the imagination.  Many of this friends will be going there and of course I know that a good kid will do well wherever he goes. But having been to a school during the last recession that was failing and flailing I’m not convinced that this is the right choice for him. Sure, I did alright but I’m never sure what I might have done in another environment and I will never know.

So ruling that out for the moment, we are left with a “choice” of two.  The boys school is massively oversubscribed, it is the goal of every parent of a boy in year 6 throughout the county.  It has high standards and a reputation of producing leaders in all fields. I know this, because they told me on numerous occasions on the night that I was there.  They also told me a lot of other things, how tough the standards were, how boys could not have the hair cut too short, how….how….how…. and it at this point that my inner me screams,


I don’t want my son to grow up in some misogynistic community where towels are whipped across arses (or worse) in show of domination. I don’t want him to go to a school where being a strong leader is rated above being a strong follower, I don’t want him to think that if you aren’t captain of the first XI or the first XV then somehow you are a nothing, a wannabe. I want him to grow being assured and aware of his differences, but to see them as strengths, I want him to be proud of his achievements and not look to those of others for self worth and appreciation.  I don’t want him to be one of THOSE men that I meet in conferences or meetings, who have nothing to say to me of any interest despite their perfectly coiffured hair and shiny shoes.  I didn’t sign up for that when I became a parent.

At the end of the day, I guess it isn’t my choice… is his.  The other option, the independent school is small, it focuses on creating learners and every child fulfilling their potential.  As they said on the night, “we aren’t a conveyor belt producing perfect students” (but they do have the best results in the county).  But, it doesn’t matter what I think and ultimately we are luckier than many in that we can provide him with choices.  Still a little piece inside me hopes that on 1 Match 2011 when we hear back, he isn’t going to make it into the boys’ school and instead we will be left with a “choice” that suits me. Does that make me a bad father? Maybe, maybe not.

Driving back from the independent school the other day, he asked me about the money that it would cost. I replied that it didn’t really matter that we all have choices, “All I can provide you with is love, security and an education”.

The rest, my son, is up to you.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/13/2010 08:38

    Where I grew up there are still grammar schools and kids still take the 11+ (or 12+ as it was in my day). As with the boys school, people fight long and hard to get their kids into one of the grammar schools – private tuition for the exams and all sorts. I’m told that, these days, they even move house to try and get in the right catchment areas. Hardcore!

    There were three choices when I was young (not that long ago, dammit!) – two of which were grammars, one of which was girls only. My parents are not pushy parents at all, but when they have a very strong opinion on something then they will occasionally pull rank. They weren’t keen for my to go to the girls only one – they didn’t think it was healthy. They did, however, passionately want me to go to the mixed grammar. Personally, I didn’t want to. It wasn’t where my friends were going – they were all going to the local comprehensive. I hated the idea of wearing a blazer and tie and not being allowed to wear earrings or skirts above the knee (two rules I flouted constantly throughout my time there) and kicked up a right stink about it. But go I did!

    I was a mediocre student by the grammar school’s standards. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, was young, stupid and thought I knew best. I worked hard, but not nearly as hard as some of my friends. But you know what? I was lucky as hell to go to that school and I thank my parents every day for the choice they made. I passed everything, got good grades and even though the school viewed me as mediocre (compared to the straight A* students) I came out of there with a strong work ethic and an excellent education under my belt. Ok, so maybe a slightly snobby attitude too if I’m perfectly honest, but you can’t have everything… 😉

    With hindsight, I think I’d have done terribly at the local comp. I doubt I’d have got 10 GCSEs and, if I did, I expect they’d all have been C’s at best. I probably wouldn’t have gone on to college and, in turn, everything about my life would be different in one way or another. At that age, I really needed pushing and that’s exactly what the grammar school did. My parents could absolutely see that and I’m glad they ultimately made the choice for me.

    So maybe it’s not your choice to make. But maybe it is. Because is he old enough and wise enough to really make the best choice for himself? I certainly wasn’t at that age.

  2. 10/13/2010 08:51

    Good post from Theo, education does seem to be the theme of the week! Wendy, spot on. I seem to recall I’m (gulp) slightly older than you – but have exactly the same recollection of choices, and parents wanting to pull rank. I ended up somewhere stricter than I’d have liked, it was a faith school too, which really riled me, but I now look back and can say with certainty if I’d gone to the local 6th form, there’s no way I would have achieved the same results.

  3. 10/13/2010 08:56

    Interesting view, and is true (in our location) of infants, Juniors and Senior schools for us, or whatever they are called these days.
    I have three children, one now left school, one at primary one in Nursery (yes, I have mental health issues to have such a gap between all the children) However, you are absolutely right in your final note that it is up to the child in the end. Once they hit the teenage angst stage they can go in a number of directions and you can only try to point them in the right direction. At this stage you can’t predict with whom he is going to make associations and if they will be good or bad, and the good or bad can happen at any school. Hopefully whichever decision is made will be the right one, inevitably at some point during the teenage rebellion it will be your fault for making the wrong one.
    Best of luck.

  4. fernandomando permalink
    10/13/2010 09:17

    you are too hard on your high school…….. [Comment moderated]

    On another point, you strike me as wishing to be left wing in your stated politics, but appear quite far from that in what you actually do. Not a criticism, as it is very difficult to live a consistent life. But it does make you think.

  5. 10/13/2010 13:16

    they even move house to try and get in the right catchment areas.

    School districts (and hence property taxes, which fund the schools) vary wildly in the US – so much that on almost every house listed for sale on, you will see the school district listed.

    We paid a lot more for our house and pay higher property taxes than we would if we had bought an equivalent house just a mile away (in the City of Milwaukee, which has horrible, horrible schools), simply because we are in a good district. We don’t have kids and won’t, but someday, we will need to sell the house, so we shut up and pay.

    I don’t think there are as many school options here as there are in England. You go to the school in your district, period. Some districts do have charter schools and vouchers, where you can take your tax money and go, but most don’t. There is always private school, of course, but then you have to find the tuition.

  6. 10/13/2010 13:16

    Yes, it is a messed up system that screws poor kids.

  7. Sukh Pabial permalink
    10/13/2010 13:34

    We’re having to go through the headache of finding a primary school for the twins for 2011. And we’re opting for private because the local ones just can’t guarantee the level of education we want for them. I was lucky enough to be put through private education, and I don’t know if it made me a better rounded person or not. I just hope that the decisions we’re making now for the kids gives them the right direction for the future.

    Good luck HRD, I’m at the early stages of all this, so will look to the advice of captain my captain!

  8. 10/13/2010 19:50

    I’m dead against private fee paying schools, and against choice of schools and selection by school authorities. See my articles here and here

    To my mind, there are two main reasons for the paucity of quality education delivered to many kids, and the patchiness of standards even within the same town.

    Number one: The biggest factor that affects your children’s education, is parental involvement. Way too many parents abdicate all responsibility, either because the don’t know how to, don’t care, or believe their job is merely to get them into a good school, which will do the rest. Some parents dislike their own kids so much, that they force them to live and attend school far away from home in boarding schools (and kid themselves they are doing the best for the children).

    Number two: Market forces drive up and down the calibre of every school’s biggest active resource, the children themselves. As the children of upwardly mobile parents are removed from a school perceived to be poor to another that seems to be good, that “poor school” is being robbed of the benefit of those students. Eventually the school is left with the rump of children who are the offspring of the indolent, feckless, “scrounger-class”, who have zero expectations, and therefore nothing to live up to.

    A good school, that benefits the children and the community most, is one that has a healthy mix of professional and working class parents, benefit recipients, immigrants, wealthy, impoverished, and children ranging from special needs to very talented. Any school that uses social engineering, market forces, discrimination, bigotry and downright snobbery (as well as affordability) to select it’s pupils, can only engender and inculcate the same intolerance in its student body. Unsurprisingly, these schools will produce great results (as they’ve weeded out any challenging pupils), but their very presence will impoverish every school that would otherwise have had those children.

    I despise the parents of children who remove them from my kids school, and therefore their lives. They are not just inferring, they are saying out loud that my kids are not good enough for theirs to mix with. As Churchill would say “Up with this, I will not put!”

    I have three boys, aged 20, 17 and 8. I am also on their respective school boards. Our high school is the largest secondary in Europe, and the catchment area includes some of the most deprived communities in the country (it’s Glasgow) as well as very affluent enclaves. My 2 eldest have been straight A students all the way, as well as being successful musicians, independent thinkers, and cheeky argumentative so and so’s. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and couldn’t be more proud.

    Theo, send him to the nearest good school, don’t pay a penny, and get involved in the school board.

    Oh look, 473 words.

  9. 10/13/2010 20:30

    If I may sum up up for our verbose Scottish friend… get involved!

  10. 10/14/2010 10:27

    Oh dear.
    This does rather look to be a reverse of your previous positioning on independent / public school education.
    I wonder what other reappraisals will follow……………..

    And this comment is given with love and interest, dear HRD, not schadenfreude.

  11. 10/14/2010 20:50

    @Wendy Jacob – Wow….you wear short skirts? I hadn’t noticed! 🙂 Of course the choices need to be limited, but ultimately I think it is important that the child feels involved and has a say….even the final say

    @James Mayes – Yes education is a theme this week (check out James’ post). You’re not that old are you? 🙂

    @paul – Dude! Mental health issues? That doesn’t cover the half of it!!!!!!!

    @fernandomando – Yeah I’m a sell out…..sue me! 🙂

    @The gold digger – I know a little about the US system and I have to say, I think it has some merits……

    @Sukh Pabial – I’ll let you know………but I’m no leader…..we’re all in this together!!

    @Stephen O’Donnell – “Theo, send him to the nearest good school, don’t pay a penny, and get involved in the school board”. – Sadly there isn’t one……there is no good school in our catchment area. Sad but true. As for getting involved, I’ve been a School Governor for 5 years now, which is why I feel so mixed about this.

    @James Mayes – 🙂 🙂 🙂

    @Henry – I’m all over pragmatic realism…..

  12. 10/15/2010 19:26

    It’s hard Theo.

    I wanted to go to the 2nd-best, all-girls grammar my friends were going to but ended up with an ‘assisted place’ at the independent school, which worked out cheaper actually. The last year they ever did them…

    The independent school made me doubt my abilities and feel a failure for not being brilliant at all my subjects and art and sport. But it meant I mixed with boys for the first time and I think that was probably a good move in the end – most of my friends are boys. And some of the teachers were truly brilliant.

    However my experience at the independent does sound like the experience you have heard about at the grammar. I can’t imagine the independent doesn’t have rules and regulations which are similar but obviously I don’t know the school.

    One thing I did miss out on, going to a small independent was a lack of choice for certain subjects – the more choice the better I think in that area.

    My independent school did also excel in ‘getting the most out of pupils’ – something which backfired when they tried their techniques on me – I’m very self-motivated and don’t need pushing. It depends on your son’s personality and you know him better than they do.

    I have a feeling this will work out for you, I can’t criticise the independent school system because I am a product of one: my dad wokred really hard to give me the best education he could find for me. I can’t say fairer than that, and neither can Theo Jnr. 🙂

    • 10/15/2010 19:31

      However, all that education doesn’t stop the continual typos.

      Obviously, my dad worked really hard.

      God, can you believe I get paid for words? *facedesk*

  13. 10/19/2010 15:06

    What a nightmare! The Independent did a piece on choosing a secondary school the other day which I’ve misapproiated here

    It’s tongue in cheek but in a way echoes Stephen O’Donnell’s words.

  14. g-dog permalink
    10/20/2010 03:27

    US – public schools all but one year – after moving went to a Catholic school one year because one cousin went there — worthless school, which shuttled us over to the public school for some classes they couldn’t offer (Math – jesus, you can’t offer MATH!?). The quality of the public schools varied (excellent to meh..) – the quality of the teachers varied (excellent to worthless/destructive) – the quality of the students varied (more worthless than excellent). I even went to a public University (overall an excellent institution). Private schools, on the whole, were just not an option for me or my family ($$$ or lack there of). But, I feel that on the whole, I had better options than most, especially if the Catholic school experience I had was at all representative of the quality of private schools…

  15. 10/24/2010 11:47

    @Charlie Duff – Interesting you raise the lack of choice. That is something that is worrying me. Well we submitted our “application” for places yesterday, so everything is now out of our hands to a certain extent. I would never criticise anyone for typos! 🙂

    @citizenr – Thanks for commenting and welcome. And thanks for highlighting the article….which has a lot of truth in it….painful or not!

    @g-dog – “excellent to meh”! haha!


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