Am I ready for school?

We’re taking the girls to meet their Reception teachers tomorrow, as we missed the proper welcome tea party and parents evening last week. The one week of the year we go on holiday…

I have filled out the school forms (endless paperwork and I had to do two sets of course) and Dh has double-checked them. The school sent through two welcome packs last week which included the various blank forms, information about the Early Years Foundation Stage, letters from older children to R and G welcoming them to the school (one of them told R not to be scared and I started crying as i read it out to her) and a booklet of self-portraits by all of the girls’ new classmates (as they’re in separate classes we now know the names of every child in the Reception year), which made me fret approximately 98% less than I had been as the girls can actually write their names and some of their classmates can’t. Naturally, there are some that have better handwriting than me, so you can’t have everything.

The girls and I went to the school fete a couple of weeks ago and picked up some second-hand school uniform. The school colours are yellow and blue, so R is going to wear yellow tops, gingham summer dresses and sweatshirts and G is going to wear the corresponding items in blue. In Winter they’ll swap the summer dresses for grey pinafore dresses. The PE kit is non-branded and consists of white tops and dark shorts or jogging bottoms.

The girls are very excited about meeting their teachers tomorrow. As Dh and I are both on leave until next week, we’re both able to attend. I’m really pleased as we’ll be sharing the pick ups and drop offs as we do now. Dh is keen on becoming a parent helper and reading with the children, so he’s going to ask about doing that. I think he’d be great as he’s extremely patient (let’s face it, in this house he has to be) and it’ll be good for the boys to have a man helping them with their reading as often it’s the mums that go in.

After-school club is sorted, for this year at least. I have already filled in forms to get the logoed bits of the school uniform and will be raiding M&S for the other clothing. Dh and I have bashed diaries and are able to juggle the staggered start dates and finish dates for the first two weeks of term between us (lots of people are complaining about this. I have lost count of the number of times someone has said ‘Just chuck ’em in!!’. It’s certainly a pain in the arse for us working parents.)

The girls are ready. Dh is fine about it all. Me? I feel oddly bereft already and they don’t start until September. That’s the thing with this one-shot parenting lark – once the girls are at school that’s it. They don’t have younger siblings to follow in their footsteps.

So, one phase of the girls’ life is ending and another one is about to begin. I think I’m scared because I didn’t have the easiest time at school. Some of it was of my own making, some of it was just…horrible and even now, 20-odd years later I find it hard to revisit. I can’t bear the thought of R or G going through some of the things that I did. They are their own people of course and they are a million times more confident than I was at their age. It’s that twin thing again…it seems to protect them from certain things but may yet cause other issues. They have also been at nursery since they were 5 months old, so they’re used to interacting and socialising with children of their own age. They won’t be daunted by the other children.

We don’t quite know what the next months and years will bring, but from September life is going to get that little bit more different again.

I hate it when I’m wrong

Reader, I am an enormous arse. I also HATE being wrong.

It is not the end of the world that the girls are going to be in the same class. In fact, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise:

1. Their Reception class teacher is, apparently, amazing and the parents in the other class would kill for their children to be in her class
2. The other children from nursery are in the other class. If we insisted on a split now, we would upset whichever twin was in the other class, by leaving them on their own.

I’d still like to understand the rationale behind the school’s decision keep the girls together when they had been specifically told that they were to be split up. If they’d contacted us beforehand to say that they appreciated our views but wanted to put the girls in the same class for X, Y and Z reasons, I would have understood. It was a shock to find out that our views had been completely ignored, with no explanation.

As it turns out, I’m one of the few people that thought splitting the girls was an absolute necessity. So many people have commented that it would be a shame to split them, that it wouldn’t feel right, that they work well as a team, that they both rely on each in different ways, that they are individuals with different personalities and approaches to life and won’t get mixed up after the inevitable initial confusion.

I sat the girls down individually on Friday and asked them what they thought. They both said, without prompting from the other, that they would rather be in the same class as each other than be with their friends. I can’t argue with that.

Dh is going to speak to the school tomorrow. I wasn’t exactly rational when I spoke to them on Friday so hopefully he’ll make more sense than I did!

School prep.

Time is really flying by. 3 months and 5 days until R and G start school. They had a visit at nursery (sorry, Big Stars as G now insists that we call it as she’s too GROWN UP to be at nursery now) from the school liaison lady last week. She asked the girls (and a couple of their classmates that will be attending the same school) to write their names, draw a picture of themselves (R refused to draw a nose on her self-portrait so G leaned over and did it for her, which will have told the school all they need to know about the dynamic here) and tell her what they liked doing. In July we’ll attend a tea party for the new Reception classes, where they’ll meet their classmates and be given a booklet with all of the other children’s pictures and information in. It all sounds rather lovely. I’m really impressed.

We have also sorted out After-School club for the girls. Their school doesn’t offer it to the Reception class, but they have a private day nursery on-site that offers ‘wraparound care’ for their age group. Inevitably it’s expensive (and of course for two children the cost doubles) but at least it’s guaranteed for a year and is only required during term-time. Luckily the nature of Dh’s shifts and my flexible working patterns (I thank my lucky stars every day that I work for an extremely family-friendly organisation) means that we don’t require breakfast club as well, which would really push the cost up. The girls are already on the waiting list for the ‘proper’ after school club which they can start from Year 1, although I have heard horror stories of a ridiculously small amount of places and an enormous waiting list but I’m not going to worry about that until I need to.

The girls are just so ready for school now. Prior to Easter I noticed a subtle shift in their attitude towards nursery (sorry BIG STARS) and they’re now talking about going to school, the people they’ll meet, the things they’ll learn, the uniform, etc.

I think Dh and I are also ready. It’s going to be a big change for us, too. We’re used to the girls going to nursery three days a week, me working at home the other two days and a potential 51 weeks a year of childcare. I have already planned my annual leave for the latter half of this year and the beginning of next, to coincide with the Christmas break and the start of Easter. I’m going to work at home during the half-term weeks. Hopefully Dh and I can manage the six week break next Summer between us. It’s not ideal, but we’re used to juggling and it’s a bit like levelling up on a computer game: we’ve had it relatively easy, childcare wise for the last four years. Now it gets a bit tricker.

Primary school offer day 2012

13.20pm. I submitted the girls’ eApplications back in October and today, sometime after 5pm, we find out which primary school they will attend in September. Before we started this process I thought I wouldn’t be too bothered about which primary school they went to. I’ve always had half an eye on the choices (or possible lack of) they’ll have to make when the move up to secondary school. However, with a number of the friends starting prep school last September (and already appearing to be way ahead of R and G both educationally and emotionally) and the horror stories about a shortfall of places in the area last year, coupled with all those bloody people that have said ‘What will you do if they end up getting in to different schools?’ means I’ve been like this for the last few months weeks.

We applied to three schools:

1. Uber School, 800 metres away (as the crow flies), massively oversubscribed, last child to get in last year lived 280 metres away. Not getting in there, then.

2. Good School, which recently got an Outstanding OFSTED report, 100 metres away. This is the one that Dh really, really likes. If he’d done the application he would have put this one first. He didn’t, so I stupidly put Uber school first

3. The Other School, currently graded by Ofsted as Satisfactory but rapidly improving, 300 metres away. I know lots of alternative parents that have chosen to send their children there over Good School and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the girls went there, but I’m not sure it’s really me us right for the girls

I’ll be back here later with the results….

17.35pm As predicted, the girls (both) got into school no.2, so Dh looks a bit like this. I’m chuffed too, but it’s going to be a logistical nightmare as they don’t offer an after-school provision to under 6’s so we’re going to have to look at alternatives.

The deed is done…

“Online applications submitted before the portal closes on 15 January 2012 will be considered as being on time.  You will be advised of the outcome of your application by email on 18 April 2012.  We will not contact you before this date unless we require additional information”.

I have completed the eAdmissions forms for the girls (one each, of course) and now we must wait. Despite having the option to apply for six schools, I chose to put the three we’ve visited.

I put:

1. Uber school that we don’t live near enough to, but it’s worth a punt

2. Good school that we both really liked and is on the doorstep so should be the school we get

3. Fine school that we saw today that would be ok if the other two didn’t work out

Yes, I changed my mind and reversed our preferences for Uber and Good schools. So shoot me. I put a note on each of the forms stating that R was the twin sister of G (and vice versa), quoting their unique application numbers – I did G’s form first, then did R’s form quoting G’s number and edited G’s form to include R’s number) and that they must attend the same school. We want them to be in separate classes (G isn’t fussed, R wants be to with her sister), but we don’t have to worry about that until they have school places.

We’ve done all we can. Now the waiting begins.

The ‘other’ school

we had to take the girls with us. G is generally more accepting of things and masked her slight confusion with a winning smile. R was NOT HAPPY. R isn’t terribly good at hiding how she’s feeling about something (can’t imagine where she gets it from) and she let us and everyone else know how cross she was. She wasn’t openly naughty or rude, but she had, as Dh says ‘A right cob on’ and she refused to crack even the merest hit of a smile when the Head Teacher said hello to her. I thought she might relax a bit when we went into one of the reception classes and spotted one of the old Big Stars from nursery, but she buried her head in Dh’s chest and refused to engage with the process.

The school was…fine. I kind-of wished I hadn’t read the Ofsted report before we looked round but I could see why they had rated it as Satisfactory. It’s now seen as an ‘improving’ school and I suspect that in 3 or 4 years’ time when the new buildings open (it’s currently housed in a series of 1950s prefabs) it will become a good or very good school. Dh commented that the school looked ‘shabby’ and said that he felt shallow for thinking it. On one level it is shallow to judge an institution like that, but it all helps to form an opinion and is therefore valid.

The Head Teacher was probably the nicest of the three we’ve met. She was happy to answer questions on not only her school, but the whole primary schools admissions process as she had recently been through it herself. The school focuses much less on the academic/results side of things than the other two schools we’ve seen (although literacy and numeracy are, of course, central) and is very community-driven. I had heard from another parent that this school is seen as the choice for families that are not so driven by testing and results and is more ‘arty’ and ‘rounded’ – there was lots of chatter about ‘the whole person’, for example.

This September it went from a one to two-form entry school and that’s one of the drivers for the new buildings (at consultation stage, so no planning permission yet). I thought it might have smaller class sizes but apparently there are 60 children (the maximum) in reception so on that basis it’s the same as the other two schools.

I can now see why other families send their children there, but (gut feeling ahoy) it wasn’t the right school for us. When we left, we asked R and G what they thought. R was still in quiet rage mode so didn’t say anything. Dh and G had the following conversation:

Dh: Did you like the sch..?

G: (interrupting) No.

Dh: What about the…?

G: NO.

So there you have it. It’s the third choice school. Now to complete the admissions forms…

Eye of the tiger

Dh and I visited the second primary school on our list this morning. It’s the closest school to us distance-wise and has an all-round Good rating from Ofsted with an Outstanding for the curriculum. It’s our default school really, so I was hoping it would be at least as good as the school we visited two weeks ago.

There were already four or five families waiting in reception when we arrived, all of whom had blatantly ignored the ‘it’s best if you don’t bring the children with you at this stage’ speech that we were given over the phone. The girls were at nursery today anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. We were soon joined by another half-dozen families (grr).

Several of the parents already knew each other, cue lots of ‘Ooh look who it is! Fancy seeing you here!’ conversations. We recognised one of the other mums from nursery who,like us hadn’t brought her pre-school daughter along but was lugging around a nearly one year old (everyone either has babies or bumps round here- it’s most disconcerting). There was lots of chatter about other schools that people had visited.It seems that some families are travelling miles to visit schools that they can’t possibly get into unless they’re sleeping with the head teacher or donating vast sums of cash.

I digress. Dh and I really REALLY liked the school. It was better than the other school in terms of ICT provision (it has its own editing suite and recording studio!) but everything else was pretty much the same. The lady showing us round (the Liaison Officer’) had trouble dealing with such a large and demanding group of pushy parents, but she smiled resiliently throughout.

I got really hacked off towards the end when we were introduced to the school’s pastoral teacher and she explained the way in which the school deals with ‘disruptive’ pupils. In a nutshell, any child with an issue – emotional, behavioural, social – can choose to spend some time in a separate classroom to talk through the problem and find ways to deal with it.This is available to ALL children in the school, regardless of age. Dh and I thought this was a lovely idea – the child with a problem was being dealt with, and their classmates could get on with their work.

Having worked with social workers for the last five years, I know that no child is naughty without a reason. It might be problems at home, emotional difficulties, problems socialising, problems keeping up with schoolwork. There’s always an underlying cause. I was impressed that the school worked so had to tackle such issues head-on and with parental agreement.

Not everyone in the group felt the same as us. One parent referred to it as ‘the naughty room’. Another talked about ‘disruptive children’. Yet another asked if the school had a high proportion of children with ‘behavioural difficulties’. It was blatantly obvious that this was not the case,but some of the parents wouldn’t let it go. They clearly saw it as a sign of a ‘problem’ school.

After several minutes of a few parents interrogating the pastoral teacher, I’d had enough. She was in the middle of dealing with a clearly upset little girl and had very kindly agreed to talk to our group for a few minutes. Reader, I ranted. ‘NO SCHOOL IS FILLED WITH PERFECTLY BEHAVED CHILDREN. NOT ONE IN THE REAL WORLD, ANYWAY. WANT A PERFECT SCHOOL? SOD OFF AND PAY FOR PRIVATE EDUCATION!!!’ I thought I was muttering under my breath but the parent next to me (seemed nice) caught my eye and started laughing. I looked back at Dh and he grinned and rolled his eyes.

I think some of the parents in the group were antsy because the school was clearly very good and they knew that they didn’t live near enough to be guaranteed a place. We live a road over from the school and it’s 3 minutes walk to the door, so I reckon we’ll be ok. Dh and I felt rather smug as we left.

This is going to be our first choice school on the application form. Uber-school is going to be second. We’re off to visit our current third choice in a couple of weeks (we have to take the girls with us for that visit but they said that was fine) and I’m not bothering to look at the fourth choice because the receptionist there was extremely rude when I phoned up to arrange a visit ‘It’s a bit early in term – phone back in a couple of weeks’. Erm, nope. All the other schools have got their act together, why haven’t you?

I felt quite tigerish for the rest of the day. I think our cubs will do well at today’s school. I might need to kick some other parents’ asses, but they may have already decided to send their perfectly behaved children to the perfect school THAT DOESN’T EXIST. NOT EVEN IN THE FEE-PAYING SECTOR.

<Breathe>