Today I went to my first British primary school open day. My daughter went to her nursery friend’s house. His mum is also a PhD student (researching poverty eradication and how to stop deforestation! Putting my namby-pamby irrelevant literature PhD to shame), and his dad is a member of, from what I can tell, a fairly popular Portuguese band. They are on Wikipedia and have tens of thousands of ‘likes’ on Facebook, so it was tempting to call this post ‘A Portuguese rockstar took my daughter to the toilet today’. Apart from the occasional trip to Portugal and mentions of his booking agent, you wouldn’t know though, he’s a lovely hands-on dad. We all went to watch the big fireworks a couple of weeks ago, and it was lots of fun. The little boy is just under two weeks older than my daughter, and they really get on like a house on fire. We seem to have established a bit of a reciprocal occasional babysitting deal, which is great, and completely new for me. It is unfortunate that they will leave the UK in the spring after their second baby is born, sadly such is the nature of friendships struck up at a university nursery.
Looking at schools was a surprisingly emotional experience for me. I was very happy at my small German village primary (not so much the secondary in the next town), and I really want my daughter to have a similar experience. But with so many things being different here, plus the fact that she’s growing up!, it’s causing a surprising amount of anxiety. I started reception at age 5, my schooldays lasted from 8.30 to 1.10 (from what I can remember), and school uniforms are still seen as a funny British (read: overly formal) quirk. So it’s a bit different, to say the least, to imagine my tiny daughter in a uniform spending 6-7 hours a day in a class of 30.
The two schools I looked at today couldn’t have been more different: school A is on the outskirts of our small town, has 2 classes each from Reception to year 3, a bit of outside space with a vegetable garden for each class, and has taught a couple of generations. School B was set up by parents 2 years ago, has a beautiful building in the very busy centre of town for their Reception to year 5 classes (1 per year), an outside space the size of my kitchen, and takes the pupils to the local (premiere league? First division? No idea!) football ground every week for their PE lesson.
At School A we were shown around by a very enthusiastic parent governor, at School B I was shown around on my own at breakneck speed by a year 4 boy who got thoroughly bored when I quizzed the music teacher on the methods used in the extra-curricular violin lessons. I know it’s cute when pupils show you around their school, and when I was asked to do this at my British secondary school, I found that it added to my feelings of pride about my school. But today I couldn’t help but think of the pupil in his brand new shiny uniform as a tiny robot, programmed to point out the school photos and ‘school dog’ (stuffed and propping open the principal’s office door!), linger for an extra few minutes in the dyslexia unit and then deliver me back to the principal in the foyer who rattled off percentages in reply to my no doubt completely random-sounding questions. School A does not have a dyslexia unit, they simply have a couple of rooms (the same number as School B) which are used for identical purposes, as far as I can tell, but they don’t make a big deal out of it.
The governor at School A made a point to explain how happy the pupils are. The principal at School B put a big emphasis on the school’s superiority compared to other local schools, even encouraging a pupil to confirm this.
Needless to say, I felt a lot more comfortable at School A! I still have to find out about our catchment school’s open day as that one will have to be one of our choices on the application form. Several people from my university department have sent their children to the private school which is ca. 10 minutes’ walk from our house. They offer bursaries and are particularly keen to enrol more girls from a non-standard background at the moment, I’ve been told. As the daughter of a penniless non-British lone student parent my daughter seems to fit the bill, and I have been intrigued by this school for a while. But where I come from, private schools are quite rare and the preserve of the snobby.
So, basically, this school business is just as agonising as I thought it would be!