Lemons and Lemonade

Or maybe that should be School and Schooling. And my various prides and prejudices about the whole subject.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When we moved to our terraced town house in a densely populated area a short distance from the centre of our lovely county town 6 years ago, we thought that catchment areas were worth knowing about but not stressing over. On checking I found there were 9 primary schools within a mile of our address and others just a short distance beyond. Since then another school has started up close by too, but more of that in due course.

Our next door neighbours had a son in the nearest primary at the time: let’s call it St Lemon’s. They indicated they were very happy with it and not to be put off by the tiny site, 400+ pupils, popular headteacher who was about to leave or multitude of languages (now over 20). Indeed, we shrugged this off at the time. Not a problem. St Lemon’s has a fair reputation. We both went to state primaries and didn’t do too badly.

But apparently the twin curses of being a parent are guilt and choice. Guilt that you have a choice when many do not. Guilt that you might have, on any given day made at least one bad choice regarding your child’s intake of food, amusement, learning, fresh air or morality. Guilt that you cannot know the full consequences of all your parenting choices until It Is Too Late. Leading inevitably to More Guilt.

It seems Choosing the Right School is even more of an issue than the daily non-reckoning of fruit and veg, or the minutes (cough) of television or the one-upmanship (or one-downmanship, depending on company) of your child’s development in the presence of other parents. I have recently noticed that everyone else’s child is a genius. This is truly marvellous. My fortunate children are blessed with the company of dozens of truly inspirational peers. Perhaps we should homeschool and just hope a little of what is so good locally rubs off on them too.

No. Homeschooling is not the answer. And this is the one thing I am certain of regarding choosing Lily’s school for next year.

I have found the relevant county document online which lists all sorts of useful data about applying to schools for September 2012. And I know people who have already applied, hoping an early application will help them get the place they want. Not true. But the document makes great reading. You can see which schools are undersubscribed (sadly, generally geographically placed near deprived social areas) and which are oversubscribed (higher Ofsted ratings, densely populated areas and more affluent parts of town). The most important column is actually the one telling you the criteria under which the final applicant successfully got a place for oversubscribed schools. Sometimes it is down to distance (in miles, to 3 d.p., or less than 2 metres). Sometimes in age difference between siblings at the school (in days). In the case of faith schools the number of points accrued matter, and then the other details come into play. Each faith school counts differently.

I learnt that Lily would have got into a nearby very popular Catholic primary school, let’s call it St Olive’s, which I had up until now assumed she could not have. St Olive’s is a walkable distance and impressed me when I visited as a trainee (and met some of my future form group, who are now in upper sixth). It is largely (previously exclusively) Catholic and feeds into the school I used to teach in. It is a smaller town school, but it has a larger playground area and some lovely classrooms and facilities, as well as great staff. I had not appreciated that St Olive’s would be on the table.

Also within close walking distance is a Church of England school, let’s call it St Bramley’s, which neighbours the park. We are out of parish, but very close geographically and would have got in this year, despite the one class intake. There are good things happening at St Bramley’s, which is well regarded locally and takes a lot of families who live near the park. Some of them gain extra points for attending St Bramley’s church frequently enough to guarantee a place. Most of them are white British. The uniform is rather nice and it is the kind of school a lot of people might expect us to send Lily to. Except I cannot condone walking past a multi-cultural normal school with people who didn’t have to score points specially to go to a CofE school which caters for rather nice families thankyou very much it saves on sending to The Cucumber School across the park and so much easier for the nanny too. Or even The Cucumber School for Girls, should we wish to remortgage.

There is another nice CofE school, St Runner Bean’s, where a number of our friends from church go and two of Lily’s NCT friends will be heading, but it is a much longer walk and we probably would not get in. They do a good fireworks night apparently.

Our nearest non-church school other than St Lemon’s (yes, it is a Saint school, no it is not VC) is Plum Lane Primary. But with a very large intake indeed and no chance of getting a place we will not be applying, despite the huge field and great special needs resources.

There are also the outliers, in both senses. There are small rural primary schools which do not receive enough applicants to fill all the spaces they can offer, and one we have been recommended by friends is St Blackberry’s, on the river Deben. Very small. Very local. Very is it time to go and get the kids again already? Not quite close enough to my husband’s work for him to do a drop-off.

It must be harvest. All this food on my brain. Making me hungry too. [Aside: just consumed a quarter of an apple we grew ourselves and very nice too. Of the 24 on the tree earlier in the year, a sixth survived The Big Prune, a quarter of what was left got Picked By an Undiscerning Toddler and a third of what was left has been Attacked By Something. So I don’t expect I’ll get any more, but what I had was good].

So sometimes I just want to take a lateral view of all these schooling options and see what I would do if I weren’t counting fruit.

Someone I know sends their child to the new Dinossori school. She recommended it to me. So I went to take a look with Lily last Tuesday. Ok, it was partly out of sheer curiosity as a teacher and undecided parent with extra helpings of Guilt and Choice. It does cost money to send a child to a Dinossori school, but much less than private. In fact, you only get two classrooms in the whole school too (Raptors and Sauropods, or something like it). So you’d hope that what was on offer was amazing, to convince parents to part with cash for the privilege. It was. The Raptors classroom, where Lily would start, was full of children all occupying themselves with wooden learning things, cooking, hammering or reading, as the spirit moved them. They were getting on with individual learning programmes in their own ways and loving it. They were owning their learning and had already spent time out of doors in the vast area alloted to them and were playing and enjoying what they were doing. Lily lit up. She spent the rest of the visit beaming, making new friends and getting stuck in to everything she could. The room was simply decorated and uncluttered. It was not noisy. It was happy. It was everything she loves. Lily was adamant that this was going to be her school. In fact, they could even have started her the next day and had it been up to her she would have. In case you don’t know, she’s not even 4 until November. It was a good thing that my husband had not got on board, as I was able to use him as a reason for needing some time to think it over. School at 3? But it was wonderful.

Except it is also self-selecting. And it is not walkable. All parents pay fees and although Lily might be well-suited to the learning styles employed (at least at first), Joseph may not.

High up our list is the practical item of location. And I think we are going to have to work through all the other variables we can think of to decide what else truly matters. Area of playground? Teaching style? Resources? Friendship groups? Ethical values? Acceleration or enrichment of able children? Lunches? Timings? Uniform?

And we are back to one of my prejudices. I like a proper uniform on a child. Something to be proud of. Unfortunately, at St Lemon’s, there just isn’t a unifying element to the uniform – it is quite varied and other clothes are also allowed (for good reason). Lily’s first day at the school nursery on Tuesday this week will not be in uniform, unlike many of her other friends. And it doesn’t matter, but it could be the first day of 8 years at this school. I want her to be proud of the school and feel part of a community. Of our community. I want her to start making lifelong friends and invite them round to play. Thankfully, we have lined up a visit to the School Proper straight after Lily’s induction, and I am hoping it will impress her as much as the Dinossori school. It may not be everything I want in a school. Architecturally it does nothing for me. I have felt let down already by the professionalism in their dealings with us. But it may be where we are meant to send our children. We do not take our children to church to get them into church schools with many others who have (perhaps hypocritically) done the same. Because we take our faith seriously we need to look seriously at sending them to the nearest school instead, and not be hypocrites about what we believe.

And who knows, maybe get a few more recipes for lemons.

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One response to “Lemons and Lemonade

  1. Pingback: Tabling the times « threescore

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