Teddy isn’t even two yet, but even before he was born I was thinking about schools. It’s another thing, like that dratted anterior placenta and how long it takes one to dilate from four centimetres to five, that is desperately tedious to anyone else apart from people with babies. And I find it genuinely surprising that I AM interested in it. After all, I’m the one that’s interested in customer publishing, National Trust properties, ebay bargain-hunting, Malbec, perfect roast chicken and Orange Prize winners. Not schools.
But there are LOADS of reasons why I’m already thinking about it, not least because it’s September and the country is stuffed full of kids all dressed in their shiny new Tesco uniforms, eagerly being pushed back to school by exhausted parents. I live in a particular area in Bath which is actually not badly off in terms of state primary schools – this is a Good Thing, and I realise I’m lucky in this aspect. However, the initial (and smaller) worry is that at the top of the road is the over-subscribed Outstanding school that everyone bangs on about. And at the bottom of the road is the fiercely defended Good school that all the rest of them bang on about. So that’s the first decision. The other issue with both of these primaries is that they’re both Goddy. And I’m not, and nor is Dave, and we’d rather Teddy didn’t go to a school where they might teach things that were in direct conflict with everything we believe.
And the odd thing is that in Bath there are stacks and stacks of God schools, and about two non-denominational ones, both of which are out of our catchment area. Why is this? Why is it suddenly the norm to have so many religious primary schools? When I went to primary school, it was a state non-denominational one, and that was pretty normal in south east London. Is it something to do with geography, or to do with generation? Is it seen as a GOOD thing that all these schools are religious? I simply don’t understand it.
In the first couple of years at my primary school we had prayers and hymns, which were subsequently phased out – I assume because of legislation, but we also got a new head-teacher who was clearly having none of it. Throughout primary school we were still taught dull C of E things, as well as stuff about the more exotic religions. And – another assumption here – I thought that was how all state primaries behaved: slashing the formal God bit, bringing in general teaching about all faiths, without suggesting what one should believe. I do NOT understand why the state should be dictating our beliefs by forcing our kids to go to single-faith schools simply because of geography. I think that bit should be in bold, really. So here it is again: I really, seriously, do NOT understand why the state should be dictating our beliefs by forcing our kids to go to single-faith schools simply because of geography.
Then there’s my concerns as a general, wishy-washy leftie. Not a leftie that actually does anything to question or combat the current government or status quo, obviously, and not one that actually takes a huge interest in politics over and above the stuff that was ingrained in me as a kid. You know, the usual kind of leftie. Faint memories of a thousand CND marches and singing “She Was Bold And Strong” at Greenham Common aside, I just blend into the crowd really. So the leftie thing rises its head with the religious schools thing, but it also gets up and marches around with hobnail boots on when it comes to State vs Private. Stating the bleeding obvious. Obviously.
Now, while we are lucky to be within spitting distance of two good primaries, Bath is a bit buggered when it comes to state secondaries. The nearest one to us seems okay, but a little scary (although I think that comes with the territory – all kids over 11 seem a bit… big). There’s one a few miles away (bear in mind, if you’re not from Bath, that a few miles away means the other bloody side of the city) which is supposed to be excellent, but our chances of getting in are not good because of location. And in-between the two of them there are a handful of expensive private schools.
So. Do I stick to my principles and shove Teddy into the nearest one, become involved in it myself to improve it from the inside-out, and hope it works out okay? Or do I try and get him into the one the other side of town? Do we move house to get him closer to the preferred state school and incur all the costs that that entails (as well as leaving our perfect neighbourhood and perfect house in the meantime)? Or do I close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening and chuck him into a private school? It’s a game-changing decision. Life-changing.
While I’m a socialist at heart, I’m not a blinkered one. My time at primary school was actually quite good fun – I found it (generally) pretty nurturing and entertaining. Secondary school, meanwhile, was quite tough – it was in Catford and had about two thousand pupils. I was a bit of a spod – and by a “bit” of a spod, let me underline the facts for you: I looked like a spod, I acted like a spod, I spoke like a spod. Even my shoes were spoddy.* I found it, at first, terrifying. And, latterly, once I realised that getting A grades and merit marks did not also equate with popularity and lots of snogs, I tried to fit in by concentrating on disguising my (“posh”) accent, unsuccessfully fiddling about with my clothes, trying to muscle in to the more popular groups – rather than concentrating on other things like, y’know, school work. And back in the 80s I certainly noticed a fair few teachers rewarding classmates who were popular and loud and attractive with more attention than those of us at the back, silently polishing our NHS glasses.
While I won’t blame the school itself for my shonky A levels (I was – and am – a very lazy spod), I do question the benefits of that education over one which might have taken place in an environment where to be spoddy would have been seen as a Good Thing.
The fact remains: I worry about Teddy and his education and his life. If he continues to be the sensitive and dreamy little man he’s started out life as being, I’m not sure our local comp is going to be the right school to foster his particular talents**. How do I make sure that he is cared for and looked after, that he doesn’t have God dumped on him when I least expect it, and that he isn’t mercilessly bullied for being just about the best boy in the whole world? And if I make the heart-wrenching (and purse-wrenching) decision to put him in a private school, how do I avoid him turning into a massive posho arsehole in mustard trousers who thinks Jacob Rees-Mogg is a sane choice for MP and who wants to kill everything with guns?
I find it all bonkers. It’s bonkers that I’m thinking about this now when Teddy isn’t even two. And it’s bonkers that I have to wrestle with my inner socialist to even contemplate an education for him that isn’t state-funded. What the hell is up with our local authority and the government itself on a wider scale where there simply isn’t any choice? We HAVE to send Teddy to a God school, because there isn’t a non-God school. And we HAVE to send Teddy to the nearest comp – whether it’s good, bad or indifferent – if we’re not going to privately educate him. And both those schools could be the difference between a happy Teddy and a sad Teddy.
And mark my words, oh minuscule reading public: in all of this contemplation, I am not for one second thinking that I want Teddy to grow up to be Prime Minister (I’d really rather he didn’t – I’m not sure I’ve liked any of them***), or an astrophysicist (I want to be able to understand him at some point in his life), or an Olympic gold medallist (Paula Radcliffe always seems desperately miserable). I truly just want him to be cheerful and fulfilled and live a glorious, guilt-free, sociable and, yes, happy life. And school is such a big part of that. Needless to say, I shall continue to wring my hands about it for another two years before handing over the decision of our first-born’s education. And then I can blame the government, the state of this country, the failings of the local authority and, crucially, Dave for every bad grade and every tearful moment.****
* And yet I was genuinely surprised when, during the first school disco at age 11, the only boy to ask me to dance was the other class spod.
** At the moment, these talents are (in no particular order): dancing while sitting down, a mania for Sarah & Duck, walking backwards into kitchen cupboard doors, saying “choo choo”.
***Although I’ve always been a little fond of Gladstone. Simply because he had a bag named after him, and that makes him a sort of Victorian Jane Birkin.
**** Oh dear GOD, all the fun has dribbled out of this blog, hasn’t it? I’ll go back to baby-food and poo next week.