Sunday, 17 January 2016

Every day is a school day

Despite ET being too young to start worrying about this, people I know are currently running the gauntlet that is picking a primary school for their child. Little did I know just how difficult and stressful this could be, as children are categorised based on any number of arbitrary categories. Seriously, it'd be simpler and fairer to just give them a weapon and pit them against each other in a fight to the death, Battle Royale style.

Have you seen Battle Royale? It's like Hunger Games, only good.

Schools pick and choose which pupils are allowed to attend based on factors like whether the child currently has an older sibling attending the school; whether the child is from a certain religion ('we're all for inclusion but we sort out our own first'), how far away from the school the child lives and who knows what else. When we bought our house 9 years ago, as unmarried mid-20 somethings (gasp,  living in sin!), we didn't even consider things like how good the local schools were but now, years later with a marriage and child under our belts, we're suddenly realising that perhaps we could have picked a better place to live to secure the best future for our child. That's not to say where we live is a bad area - far from it - but having seen the most recent Birmingham Mail primary school rankings, it turns out we're in this Bermuda triangle of mediocre to better-than-average schools, as opposed to being right down the road from one in the top ten. More fool us for not planning ahead!

So what can we do to ensure ET has the best educational start to life? Someone I know recently confessed they'd upped and moved house just to get into a better school; others have told me they've feigned religion for up to two years, attending church to ensure they're 'seen' and recognised in the local parish, to increase their child's chances of getting a place at a local Catholic school. Indeed, when we announced we were having ET Christened, many asked if it was to get him into a school - something we hadn't even considered at the time!

The thing to remember with rankings and league tables, however, is that they change. Schools are in constant flux as they strive to attain better outcomes for their pupils, better Ofsted ratings and increased funding as a result. The school that's top now may not be so in a year or two's time and how awful would it be knowing you'd gone to so much trouble to secure a place only to see the school's ranking fall.

Interestingly, the schools in the Birmingham Mail article are ranked against a number of things - attendance, progress, teaching, finances and attainment. Not once does it mention pupil happiness; not once does it consider what the pupils themselves think of their school. Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with that?

So, K and I may have some time before we really need to worry about all this; time to consider our options and assess our viability against these random, arbitrary checks and balances, but like any parents we want to ensure ET has a healthy, fun and worthy education; one where he can thrive and blossom, where his individuality is celebrated and his talents encouraged; a school where he'll build the foundations that will set him up for his whole life...I just don't feel like we should have to move house to do it.


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