Over the past few weeks, we’ve been doing the rounds of the local secondary schools.
Aside from spending about 90% of my time thinking, “Wasn’t this all so much bloody simpler when you just went to the school up the road?” I’ve also been agonising over which school to choose.
Which isn’t surprising, considering I did EXACTLY the same seven years ago when we were choosing a primary school. Poor Flea was registered at four schools up until a week before term started.
But honestly, how the jiggins am I supposed to know which school is “BEST”?
We traipse around schools, looking at facilities and wall displays and chatting with the (almost certainly) carefully selected, well-dressed, well-mannered student guides. In lots of respects, we’re lucky – our area has three or four well-performing high schools, none of which are particularly over-subscribed, along with three or four good private schools, all of which are reasonably affordable for a family like ours, with one child and two working parents (at a pinch).
So, we look at language suites and sports halls and do science experiments in labs and I’m sure they’re all perfectly fine. I’m sure Flea would be perfectly fine.
I ask about exam results and extra-curricular clubs and class sizes and GCSE options and university admissions. But it feels like I’m missing the point.
Because what I really want to know is whether my child is going to be ignored? If she doesn’t excel at music or sport, does she still matter?
I want to know if teachers and adults in the school talk to pupils with respect or just demand it from kids without question.
I want to know how strict the school is about things like make-up and skirt length. Because my child will very much still be a child when she starts secondary school, and I will expect her to look like one.
Seriously. When I see school kids caked in make-up it takes everything I have not to pull over the car and tell them, seriously, this is as good as they will EVER look and now’s the time to rejoice in not actually needing make-up on a daily basis.
I want to know if it’s the sort of place that will overlook a quiet, well-behaved child who does well without being pushed. Is it the sort of place that will push her to excel – because while I’m all sorts of laid back about primary school, I think results matter in secondary education, and I want Flea to have all the choices in the world when she hits 16, or 18.
I want to know if it’s the sort of place where someone will ask my child what’s wrong if she seems upset.
Will people in the school know her name? There are some ridiculously HUGE schools in our area, and I can’t help but think how easy it must be for kids to get lost in them. Literally and metaphorically.
Flea’s loved her primary school and I’ve loved it, too. Because it feels like she’s in a place where the teachers know her well, and care about her wellbeing, as well as her education. Secondary school, after being coddled for so many years, well, it feels like a scary step for me as much as Flea.
And actually, I suspect it’s me who is feeling a bit lost. Because it’s important, isn’t it? Compared to nursery, and primary school, this is Big Stuff. If we get it wrong, it could actually have life-long consequences. And I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to make that sort of decision.
Would love to hear tips from other parents of 10 year olds. How are you coping? What questions are you asking?