I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while now but life just seems to be getting busier and busier.  No sooner had #4 settled into her Reception class at school, it was time to submit our secondary school application for #1.  It really was a case of filling out the form and taking a deep breath before hitting the ‘submit’ button. This is uncharted territory for us and as with most significant milestones in our family, Kai – sometimes luckily, other times less so – is the pawn in our game of parental trial and error. We are, to all intents and purposes, winging it with possibly one of our most important decisions to date.

Tomorrow sees the start of the new BBC series, “School” – a six part documentary series focussing on the funding crisis in Britain’s secondary education system.  Not only is the school we have selected for our precious firstborn deemed in need of special measures by Ofsted, it is also one of the four schools featured on the series.  With these less than sparkling credentials, it does beg the question why we’ve put it as our first choice.

This has not been an uninformed decision.  We have done the tours of the local schools, read up on the statistics and spoken to numerous parents with older children. Then there’s the Captain and my own experience of education to take into consideration. All of these factors have played equally important roles in the decision-making process.

For many parents, the roulette of state-provided education pushes them down the route of fee-paying options.  This decision is somewhat made for us by the financial prohibition of funding four children. Perhaps I would feel differently if money were no object, but for now, I am confident our funds would be more beneficial spent on adventures and experiences to supplement our children’s education.  We try and instil a thirst for learning in our four and if knowledge is power, we want them to be fully armed.

30-odd years ago, after sitting the scholarship papers for a couple of private schools, I was the fortunate recipient of an award that kick-started a traditional academic route through my teens.  My school of choice offered a wealth of opportunities and shiny facilities, all of which I embraced with relish and excitement.  We had school on Saturdays and as a member of the choir, often attended chapel services on a Sunday. I participated in as many extra-curricular activities as I could and sang the Latin school song with pride.  I pretty much sailed through the first five years and emerged with a decent set of GCSEs and the benefit of choice that these qualifications afforded me.

However, and it’s a big however that certainly is instrumental in my reasoning behind our current school choice, no amount of money can be thrown at a child’s education to ensure they grow up as kind, respectful and happy individuals.  Unfortunately, a damaging and unforeseen spiral of nastiness at the hands and tongues of bullies in my first year of Sixth Form negated all the happy school memories I had up to that point. At very short notice, I left the school that had provided me with so many aspirations and dreams in a cloud of despair.  The effects were damaging both mentally and physically and the ghosts of this time only left me relatively recently.

I moved to a school with decidedly fewer facilities and definitely less “shine”.  I made some lovely friends, had a happy couple of years and managed to pass the A-Levels I wanted to get to university. For me, this is proof of a bigger life lesson.  The headteacher of the school we have applied for said at the open day that they encourage their pupils to be the best version of themselves. I wholeheartedly agree.. You don’t have to be the best, just try and be your best. This will then stand you in good stead wherever you are and hopefully whoever you’re with.  You certainly don’t need to go to the best school to learn to be the best you – it’s a much more rounded affair than that.

Meanwhile, at his local comprehensive, the Captain faced many issues not dissimilar to those that will undoubtedly be highlighted in the new TV series.  He recalls the instability of ever-changing teaching staff and in stark contrast to my qualifications, he has no idea what his are as he decided not to collect his results!  Our educational experiences are at opposing ends of the spectrum, yet here we are, together for more than twenty years, united by things that you can’t really be taught at school.  Most importantly, we’re happy. Happy individually and happy together. This is without doubt, my ultimate and absolute aspiration for all my children. Academic accolades are all well and good, but in my book, they mean nothing if my children are unhappy or lacking the core values of kindness and respect.

I strongly believe that the roots of success, however you choose to define it, begin at home.  Self-confidence, self-belief and self-motivation are all things that can be supported at home. I’ll be trying my hardest to fill in any “gaps” at school with this as we always have tried.  I also hope that change can be made when similarly minded people come together. There are so many people routing for this school, routing for so many of the things that are definite positives.  The school is small and has a nurturing feel to it. The pupils we have seen when we have visited have radiated a sense of pride. Just like viewing a new home, this school just felt right for us and right for our son.  There was a realness that resonated and it didn’t feel like a show. Somewhere, somehow, something must be heading in the right direction as the majority of Kai’s class have positioned this school as their first choice, many for reasons other than it being the most local.  

My hope for my children is that they are true to themselves and strive to fulfil their potential.  I want their school days to be happy ones. Of course, I have certain expectations of wherever we send our children to school.  Present, qualified teaching staff should be par for the course. Access to teaching materials should be open to all.  Boundaries should be enforced and a strong moral compass encouraged.   If our decision to send #1 to a “failing” school doesn’t work out and these expectations cannot be met, the worst that can happen is that we have to take him out and try somewhere else. On the scale of a lifetime and what’s important, it’s not such a biggie.  So tomorrow I’ll be watching “School”, taking into consideration the fact that a year of filming has been edited down to six hours of carefully selected footage.  Whatever the outcome, we’ll all be taking a deep breath and hoping the only way is up!