School Daze

In which our reluctant hero is not sure what to do for the best. Again.

After almost two weeks, Facebook’s random algorithm that decides which of your “friend’s” posts it will actually allow you to see has caught up. Yes, the last few snaps of little people, kitted out in shiny new shoes and colourful jumpers, ready for a new school year have finally disappeared. Fortunately, normality has returned and everybody is back posting photos of their dinner instead. Phew!

Don’t get me wrong, we were guilty too as our eldest stood beaming ahead of commencing her first full year at school nursery. Uniform is optional but we bought some anyway. Almost a week into term, quite why we reckoned that three white polo shirts would be enough to last five mornings on a three-year old is beyond me. Does anybody have any tips on removing egg stains by the way? (I’m asking for a friend.)

Time moving like time does, it seems that as soon as the little people are out of nappies, they’re into school uniform. Then back out of uniform and into a fresh set after an unexpected incident involving Weetabix.

But before all of this you have the dilemma of choosing a school, nursery or playgroup. And what a nightmare it is.

We have been somewhat lucky up to now. As a family with a stay at home mum, we didn’t have to worry about external childcare for a couple of years. When the time came, we visited a couple of places before picking the nearest playgroup which was a nice enough start to school life. So far, so good.

At three, nursery choices were narrowed by our local primary school not having one and a need, at that point, to find a place that accommodated afternoon attendance. We’ve now switched to mornings so that we can also start our youngest in playgroup for a couple of sessions a week.

Already there’s military style planning needed to manage the respective drop-offs and pick-ups at two events starting and finishing at different times a mile or so apart. By this time next year it could be a lot more complicated.

In the olden days, when I were a lad, it was easy. At three, it was off to the village playgroup, followed by the village primary school. At eleven, a short bus ride was required to get to the nearest comprehensive in the “big” town. Repeat until sixteen, get your GCSE results and then decide whether to do ‘A’ Levels or get a job in Kwik Save with everyone else who left school at that point.

Fast forward to 21st Century Britain and now we have a choice. Or several choices. Thanks Government.

Pick a school, any school. There you go. No, not that one. Did you not read the Ofsted report from 2013? And look at the current league table. There could be a relegation battle on the cards this year. Do you not care about your children’s futures? Shame on you.

So, just how do we choose the right one?

Ideally it will be local and near enough to walk to. Having a nursery so that both children can attend the same place when the youngest starts next September will be a huge plus too.

Now the decisions get trickier. How big are the class sizes? What are the facilities like? How many schools should we realistically be visiting to compare? Is a couple of days assessment by some people with clipboards and a red pen really an accurate measure of how good a school is? If a school can fob Ofsted off, what chance have we got? Do the league tables actually matter? Seemingly so, at least to other parents anyway.

After copious amounts of study, I think that I have finally worked out the modern-day school system which I will attempt to explain below in simple language so that other Dads will understand.

A football club (school) wins the cup (gets a favourable Ofsted), improves its league position, gains promotion to the Premier League and qualifies for Europe. The glory hunting fans (parents) are quick to jump on board, claiming to be life long supporters, and buy the new kit (uniform.) Bus loads of new players (pupils) appear at the club’s training ground (playground) from all over the world (town) during pre-season (school holidays) hoping to win a contract for next season (term.) The transfer window slams shut and the manager (headmaster) faces a dilemma – how to get an oversized, unbalanced squad of varying abilities to perform and achieve success. They try but fail, performances drop and results suffer. A slide down the table occurs and at the end of the season, agents (parents again) battle furiously to sign their star players (children) up to another club (school), preferably with European ambitions. Oddly, the new club that the players join were relegated to the Championship only a couple of seasons ago, before appointing a new manager (headmaster) and bouncing back (did well at Ofsted and SATs.) And the circle is complete.

Bearing this in mind, are we not better just continuing at the place where the eldest is? After all, she’s settled, absolutely loves going there and we, as parents, have been impressed with the set up so far. Sounds reasonable, yes? But there’s no guarantee that she’ll get in, so even that option requires two backup plans, else risk having to go through clearing or win a penalty shootout.

What about home schooling? It’s a subject in the papers a lot at the moment and we’ve not even considered it. Perhaps that’s a better option. It’ll save all of the faffing getting there and back, especially in the winter, and there must be loads of lessons on YouTube that the children can watch.

Or what about grammar or free schools? No, let’s not even go there…

So those are the options and the clock is ticking for us to make a decision. I’m stumped if I know what to do. More study first I guess.

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