Although the girls won’t be starting until September 2012 (it’s a single entry intake round here), our thoughts are already turning to local schools. We live in what can be described as a reasonably affluent area. Although we don’t quite have a <insert name of well-known Seattle coffee chain here> on our local parade of shops just yet (it’s surely coming), we do have the option of a number of different types of school:
1. State primaries
2. Prep schools
3. Catholic schools
We can dismiss option 3 straight away. Neither of us are Catholic and the girls (and I) aren’t even christened. Plus, as a former chemistry scholar and avowed Atheist, Dh wouldn’t entertain it for even a millisecond. We’d be struck down before we even crossed the threshold on an open day. In any case, I’m not the sort of person that would pseudo-‘convert’ and go to church for a set period of time to get the girls into a school and then abandon the whole idea the moment they put the uniform on.
I had a really interesting conversation with someone at work a while back who argued that I’d already entered the private school system by sending the girls to a fee-paying private day nursery, and that I’d find it very difficult to take them out of that environment and put them back into the state system. We’re already used to taking a massive hit from our wages each month to pay the nursery fees, and prep school wouldn’t cost that much more.
I investigated further and looked at the fees for one of the local prep schools. The basic fees are £3,200 per term. Lunch costs an extra £200 per term. Breakfast and after school club are extra, as are all extracurricular activities. You’re looking at fees of around £10,500 per year and if you add in swimming or music classes would be pushing 11 grand a year. 11 grand PER CHILD. Lest we forget, we have two children and you don’t get much of a sibling discount, if there is one at all. Plus there’s the uniform to buy, school trips to fund and general keeping up with the Joneses stuff to consider. We simply don’t have c.£25,000 a year to spend on schooling the girls. That’s just prep level. The average public school fees are £25-30,000 per year. Double that and you’re looking at almost as much as dh and I earn combined. In short, it costs a LOT more than we’re used to.
Putting my Socialist principles and the financial aspects* to one side for a second, I can see the attraction of public school. You pay for better facilities, a better standard of education and teaching (allegedly), and there’s the ‘club’ aspect on consider. Once you’re ‘in’, you’re better connected and that stands you in good stead for the rest of your life. Plus the uniforms for the prep schools are SO CUTE! Little berets and pinafore dresses with shiny black shoes. They look like perfect children from an Edwardian period drama.
That’s the ideal. The reality can (note I said can) be very different. A couple of friends of the girls are probably going to graduate from nursery to prep school and have started going for open days and interviews. One family went to an open day and were so horrified by the attitude of the headmaster (he was rather shocked that the parents weren’t married) that they refused to apply. Another family went for interview and were rejected by the school. I asked the mother why. “They didn’t reject her they rejected us!” she cried. Apparently the school was concerned that, as one of the parents was self-employed, they might have trouble keeping up with the school fees. Via the local jungle telegraph, I subsequently found out that another family had been accepted by the school. The father was a GP and the headmaster told him in hushed tones that ‘they didn’t have to worry about the waiting list’. Talk about storming the barricades and starting a revolution!
Of course, this is just one particular school that I’m referring to, so it isn’t representative of prep schools generally. Back in the dark days of Twins Club, some of the parents were discussing schools and asked me which prep I’d put the girls’ names down for. They were two months old at the time. I replied that they were probably going to go to one of the state primaries and one mother shouted “YOU’RE GOING TO ENTRUST YOUR CHILDREN TO THE STATE SYSTEM?!” at me. Yeah, it’s that sort of area.
Dh and I are proud products of the state system. It’s difficult to argue with the five degrees we hold between the two of us. I went (through choice) to a rather <ahem> ‘colourful’ secondary school (the phrase ‘All human life is here’ pretty much described it) and was lucky enough to be taught by some wonderful, dedicated, nurturing teachers who gave me the confidence to believe I was good enough to go to University and make something of myself. I was also lucky enough to have supportive parents who would read to me and help me with maths as a child. I wasn’t exactly left to flounder and I took the opportunities that were presented to me.
We can now put our education to good use and support the girls’ learning at home. It makes me so mad when I hear a parent whingeing that their child isn’t being taught to do something at school. TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY AND DO IT YOURSELF! If the girls are doing a topic at nursery, we’ll do activities at home to reinforce it. In short, we’ve got the time, funds (ish) and willingness to support their education. I don’t expect school to teach the girls everything. It’s totally unrealistic.
That’s why I’m happy to send the girls to a state school. We’re lucky enough to be in the catchment area for a reasonably nice state primary (not too bad, not amazing) and that’ll be first on the list when we apply in the Autumn. The second choice isn’t too bad either. The third choice might have to be the Catholic school but I’m confident we won’t need to worry about it. Knowing my luck, I should probably stock up on rosary beads and confessions (not difficult) just in case…
*Would I send the girls to prep school if money were no object? My honest answer is no, although I’d ensure we moved into the catchment area for a shit-hot state primary.