20 October, 2012

The survival guide to starting secondary school

I was travelling to work on the bus the other morning when I saw a guy across the aisle from me avidly reading a book entitled "A Parent's Survival Guide to Starting School". It caught my eye because my family is going through exactly this dilemma at the moment.

In our case, our oldest is due to start secondary school next September and we have to submit our application to the county council by the end of October. Yikes! The deadline feels uncomfortably close now...

Somehow, when our kids started primary school, the decision of which school to choose didn't seem quite such a huge one. They'd been at nursery since they were tiny and primary school really just seemed to be an extension of that. Furthermore, primary school doesn't entail such non-negotiable and scary things as public examinations -- things that will impact on your kids' futures long term. So, when we were choosing primaries, we visited our catchment school, which seemed very good and very pleasant, and we put it down as our first choice. That was that.

Not so simple with secondary. There are three large secondaries in the town in which we live, all of which are large and none of which is particularly appealing. They're all OK, have similarly depressing 1960s buildings, and are all within walking distance of our home. None is over subscribed, so we have our pick. But the trouble is, we can't get excited about any of them. They're all much of a muchness -- each one has at some point in the past few years been designated 'failing', and each has had a new head come in and bring the school up to a satisfactory level again.

The key questions that worry us when choosing a secondary are those that worry any parent. Is there disruption in the school? Is there bullying? Will my children have the opportunity to learn and fulfil their potential? Which schools are their friends going to?

The problem is that, with our local schools, no one ticks all our the boxes and so comes out with a resounding yes vote. To put is simply, none of our local schools is that good. As as result we, and some other parents we know, have looked into the local independent schools, but with fees totalling roughly £170,000 for two children attending from year 7 through to year 13, this is an option that requires an awful lot of thinking about. Even if we felt we could scrape the money together, our day-to-day lifestyle would have to change quite considerably to accommodate the cost of the schooling. And is it really worth that?

So, I can well sympathise with the guy on my bus. As far as schools are concerned, it's a jungle out there and it's certainly a survival guide that parents need.

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