Our first son went to the ‘best’ school.
We were the lucky ones. We had one of those new state of the art academies within walking distance of our house, one of those schools that parents would do anything to get their kids into. And our son got a place! Of course, he did. He was clever and confident and an altogether nice lad. Why wouldn’t he get a place?
But my second son didn’t get a place. He was equally pleasant and intelligent. Really good at sport too. He had what it took. And he had a brother already there. We all expected him to get in. He expected to get in. He was devastated when he did not. He went to the local high school: a good school, but never good enough for him. He never got over that feeling of rejection. He always believed he’d had a second-rate education compared to his brother, who went on to get a First in Engineering from Cambridge. And he did not.
That Academy could never guarantee places for siblings, we knew that. We also knew that places were not allocated on ability. We knew that, but we didn’t really believe it. No one does. When a friend posts on Facebook that their child has got a place at this school, the congratulations come flooding in.
‘We always knew she could do it!’
‘Well done, all your hard work has paid off!’
Places are not allocated on ability, remember. How does that kind of thoughtless comment make all the other parents and children feel who did not get a place at the ‘best’ school?
Parents and children are devastated. Parents feel that that’s the end of all hopes for a bright future for their child right there. Children feel that they have failed somehow.
I don’t want to be a part of a system that does that to a child. I don’t want to be part of a system that divides families like it has ours.
We have five children and we chose not to apply to that school again for any of the rest. This immediately made me the outsider amongst my friends.
‘Why would you deny your child that wonderful opportunity?’
Because that might be the best school for academic results in the region, but maybe, just maybe, that isn’t the best school for my kids.
As your child approaches the end of their primary education, parents have a tough choice to make. The more choice of schools that there is, the tougher the choice. It’s a huge responsibility. Parents agonise over it. Most are swayed by the exam results, the statistics, because that’s what we want for our children, isn’t it? A good education. Because a good education leads to good qualifications which lead to a good job and a secure future.
But maybe there’s more to a good education than that. Maybe the best school isn’t the one with the best results.
For my two youngest children, we chose a school which is considered by no one as the best school. None of my friends would ever dream of sending their children there. But for my kids, with their anxiety issues and learning difficulties, it felt like the right choice.
This school does not get the best results. Far from it. But this school is small, not that much bigger than the primary school they came from and every student is recognised by every teacher. I like that in a school. This school does not get the highest accolades in Ofsted reports, but the teachers work hard to create a nurturing environment for learning. This school is not situated in the best area, but it’s compact and clean and modern and my kids find it a pleasant place to go and can find their way around easily.
My fifteen-year-old daughter is having issues at school. She’s not alone in that. School is a tough place for fifteen-year-old girls. As we came out from a meeting this week with three teachers from the pastoral team, who were all attentive and caring and accommodating, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the best school for my daughter. There was no better school for her out there.
I was therefore shocked when my daughter announced, ‘I go to a rubbish school. That’s what everyone says.’ It made me sad that she should feel that way. She’s spending at least five whole years of her life there, after all. I’ve always tried to be positive about the school in front of my kids. But I can’t control what other people are saying. I can’t control what the kids from that ‘best’ school up the road are saying. Isn’t it sad that it’s only the minority of our kids that feel proud to be at the ‘best’ school, while all the others are expected to make the most of what is considered by many to be ‘a second-rate education.’?
So what are we to do if our kids don’t go to the ‘best’ school?
Don’t act like it’s the end of the world. It is what it is. There are only a certain number of places in each school and your child does not deserve a place any more than the next child. What your child deserves is fully supportive parents who are not prepared to write off their secondary education before they’ve even started.
Don’t ever criticise the school or the teachers in front of your child. You want them to make the best of what they have, don’t you? Encourage them, model a positive attitude, help them to take responsibility for their own learning. Find the good in every day.
Don’t badmouth the school. If you have something to complain about, then complain to the school about it. Not to other parents or on social media. Every teacher in the education system is trying their best with the resources at their disposal. Dragging them down with negative press won’t help anyone.
Don’t be afraid to fight for what your child needs. No school is perfect, even the best school. Every child has special needs and some more than others. Your child needs you to speak up for what they need and to persevere (calmly) until they get it.
Don’t get involved in conversations comparing schools. It really doesn’t help anyone. Just zip your mouth shut and walk away. Or even better, say something positive about the school your child attends and then walk away.
And a word to those whose kids do go to the ‘best’ school: if you feel grateful and proud of your child’s education, that’s great. But just be sensitive to others when you feel the need to share that with everyone. It’s not a competition. We all want the best for our children, whatever school they attend. Let’s all support each other.