Choosing a primary school

One minute you’re 21 and doing the walk of shame home in last night’s knickers, and the next thing you’re 30 something and a fully paid up member of the ‘Can anyone recommend..? club on facebook  (the modern day Yellow Pages for people looking for handy men (oo-er), dentists, party entertainers and lately, businesses that put up Christmas decorations and fluff your tree (not a euphemism).

I’ve also seen a fair few looking for recommendations for local primary schools, such as Jenny earlier today, who wasn’t from the block apparently, but had moved here from Manchester and wanted to know which was the best school in the area.

Jenny’s initial replies from the local mum’s braggers brigade (who all appeared to have shares in the same local primary school) were pretty much an echo chamber of praise for it – it’s ‘a fantastic school/great/lovely/nice’ they all agreed, without any real elaboration as to why.   I was a bit sceptical of all the high praise for it to be honest because word on the street (actually my neighbour’s friend’s cousin’s sister’s friend’s whattsap group) was that one of the teachers there (the one who ran the early morning forest school) had recently been sacked for uploading pictures of her boyfriend’s morning wood on a school laptop (blimey). But if any of the mums had a sniff of said rumour, they were certainly weren’t willing to tarnish their beloved school on here, that’s for sure.

Other mums soon came along to recommend their own little cherub’s school. ‘Henry is 5 with a reading age of 9 and he attends St X’, claimed one mum, hitting some likes because we all want a child genius, do we not?

Other replies filtered through involving some other things to consider:

Are you looking for a faith school?

Do you need a breakfast club and wraparound care?

Have you read the school’s Ofsted report?

Have a look around a few schools and see which school you ‘get a feel for’.

All reasonably sound advice, I feel.

So.  Given that most mums can now find the answers they need at the click of  a button, you might wonder if there is any actual point in you reading on? Well, um, no, probably not. But whilst you’re here, I’m gonna chuck my two cents worth in anyhow about a couple of other things that might sway your final decision.

By the time my son was three, he could write his name and like all good mummy braggers I was pretty proud of that. This was slightly overshadowed however, when I popped in for his pre-school parents evening and his key worker mentioned that my son’s lunch (meatballs and gravy, I believe) had been found stuffed inside her coat pockets; that my son didn’t appear to be following any instructions  and  that he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The same observations were later echoed at the end of reception class, where it was also mentioned that still being only able to write his name at this stage was also a bit below par.  

Hmmm.  Great.  Splendid.  

Okay, the trick here was not to panic.  Think positively. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for a bit of one-to-one time with him and show him what a cool teacher mummy could be. I mean, how hard could it be, writing the alphabet?

I got my pencils out whilst he swung upside down on the chair. ‘Okay, son…around the apple and down the leaf. Off you go…’

‘Nope, that’s a lollipop, try again.’ 15 minutes later, and with 16 apples, a couple of elongated snake lines and what looked like a giant tit in the centre of the page, I put the pencil down.  

Christ, that was hard. I think I’ll need a glass of wine.

I spent the next several years tentatively receiving below average reports and approaching different teachers to ascertain how much time he was receiving getting extra input from a teaching assistant, which turned out to be conclusive – none. Apparently the two TA’s appointed by the school were being used to support statemented children, and he wasn’t quite there yet.  At least that was something. I know, I know – budget cuts, but some schools appear to invest significantly in support staff whilst others appear to prioritise elsewhere.  My priority had become about getting extra support for my son, and if I had my time again, looking at what extra support is available in schools for children who don’t quite fit the norm would be one area I would have given a bit of extra thought to.

Anyway. Moving on.

My boy enjoys doing a wide range of things. Such as playing on his xbox and football and chess and model building…okay, okay, mainly just his xbox from morning until night, but I know he would like doing the other things if I was just able to cut myself in half in order to find the time to take him to all of these extra bloody things in the evenings.

So I made a few enquiries about extra curricular activities (or apparent lack of) on the school mum’s whattapp groups, highlighting my interest in finding some hobbies for the boy, and I immediately received a link to the school’s £7 breakfast club provision from the PTA Queen Bee.

Christ.  If I’d have wanted breakfast, I’d have asked for it. What I don’t understand is why these mums don’t have jobs instead of spending all day just brown nosing the school and being in the front row when their child gets star of the week every week.  Luckily, I found an ally in another mum, who chipped in with her ‘they offer shite all tbh’  comment but this was a clear red flag to the rest of the mums.  ‘If you’re not happy with the school, why don’t you just move then?’, cried one shareholder. MOVE? I’d just sold a bloody kidney to buy a house in this catchment area. Well, I hadn’t, but only because mine were worthless because of all the wine I drank, but I didn’t mention that as I’d only be gossiped about on the school playground by the mum clique.

Anyway, my point is that I think extra -curricular activities are pretty important. In private schools, they are an integrated part of school life with everything from astronomy club to performing arts to stimulate new ideas and build confidence. And yes, I know, I know,  it’s down to budget, but if you do happen to stumble upon a good school that offers  a range of well thought out after school interest clubs, I’d say that’s definitely a bonus. It also provides some extra opportunities for your child to socialise with their friends.

Which kind of brings me on to my next point.  Friends.

Sometimes, there comes a time in your child’s life that they utter the words you never want to hear (steady on, he’s only 7, we’ll deal with the teenager stuff when we get there).

‘Muuuum, I’ve got no friends  in class’, cried the boy one night, and although I’d had an inkling (the party invites were hardly weighing down his backpack lately) I was obviously pretty upset to hear him confirm my worst fears.

I was about to stage an intervention at the school gates and the husband was keen to know about my plan of attack.

‘I’m gonna stand at the school gates and spy’

‘And then what?’

‘And see if he is on his own…’

‘And if he is…?’

‘Well, then I’ll make the other kids play with him’

‘How?’

I dunno. Throw sweets at them though the gates. Threaten them. Tell their teacher they called him a fuckface …  or maybe I’ll just go and speak to the teacher or something…’ (This eventually proved futile – he does have friends blah blah blah).

The main reasons for his sudden decline in popularity, it transpired, was actually due to the way the classes were arranged each year.  Every year, the classes were re-shuffled, with around 10 pupils being moved up into a mixed class of two year groups, and the remaining pupils staying together as one.  Hardly ideal if your child has become best friends with Charlie, Tom and Oscar who are now in year 2, whilst your own is moving up to Year 3/4 sitting next to someone he only knows as ‘the one with a blue coat’. I wasn’t on my own on this one; every year there were posts from anxious parents of children who’d been stripped from their peer group and there was also a complete decline in the year group due to several children transferring to new schools due to the ever changing class set up. Of course, the optimists and the ignorant would claim that ‘children adapt’ and ‘they have to do this at high school’. Yes, well thanks Sandra but not all children make friends easily and for now, I’d just like it he was young  and happy and had friends. I’d have enough to deal with at high school  when his feet grew big enough to require their own postcode and he had 7 hours of homework to get through each night. Sanctimonious parents should be on a register so we know where they are and how to avoid them.

Which brings me to my last point in this post. Homework.  

At the risk of sounding like an old woman with the ‘When I was young I never…’, but yeah, it’s true. I did nothing other than read books up to the age of 11 and I left school with all of my GCSE’s. In contrast, the boy receives enough that requires him to spend most evenings hanging upside down at the dining room table and me patrolling it like a war zone.  I’m not actually against homework such as reading and times tables, and even other homework projects have their place, as long as they are meaningful for their age and ability.

What I didn’t find beneficial was receiving a worksheet when he first entered Year 1 asking for a report listing 10 facts about foxes.

‘Do you know where foxes live son? They live in Canada.’

‘Whhhhaaaa.’

‘Did you know that foxes are omnivorous mammals? Can you write that down?’

‘Whhhhaaaa’

‘Can you  copy this from google?  It says that foxes have flattened skulls, upright triangular ears and….’

‘Whhhhaaaa’.

Oh, fuck off, I give up. The only fox he knew about the one who ate the granny in Little Red Riding Hood. So yeah, whilst it’s not compulsory, I find schools that burden children with an obnoxious amount of homework (and punish them for not doing it) deserve a swift kick in the bin to be honest.

So that’s it in a nutshell. And – if you’ve been to visit the school, read all of the Oftsed report, checked out the policies and you still can’t decide, have a look at whether they are required to dress up as a book character every year for World Book Day! You’re either a lover or a hater of fancy dress my friend, and once you commit, that’s 7 years of either heaven or hell to come!

Good luck!

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