The Adventure of Starting Primary School (And Being A Butterfly)

Today marks the end of an era. Tomorrow I am going back to work full-time. I will become a FTWM. How to I feel about this? Don’t ask me. I try not to think about it. When I do, it’s incomprehensible to me. How am I going to manage it? My days will go something like this:

6.30 a.m. get up, get washed and dressed and have breakfast. Get Noah up, washed and dressed.

7.25 a.m. coax Noah out of the house by any means possible

7.30 a.m. leave Noah at Breakfast Club

7.35 a.m. arrive at work, then work solidly without time to come up for air

4.00 p.m. (if I am lucky) get home, cook dinner, force dinner down Noah’s throat, play with Noah (more likely to involve us both flaked out on the sofa watching TV)

6.30 p.m. Noah’s bath and bedtime (my husband shares this if he is home in time)

7.30 p.m. work

10.00 p.m. admin for the next day and getting ready for bed

10.30 p.m. bed

Where is the time for sitting down and reading a book? Where is the time for series 12 of Grey’s Anatomy? Where is the time for writing blogs and baking cakes? Where is the time for going to the gym? Plenty of women live with this daily routine so it must be possible. But how? How will I do it without being broken?

And to top it all off, Noah has gone and grown up into a school boy.

Back in July, Noah had an induction morning at his new school. Parents had a two-hour lecture in the school hall and the kids were ferried off to their new classroom to meet their new teacher. The Head Teacher met everyone at the door. She asked Noah his name, ticked him off the list in her hand, and passed him over to an older pupil who took him down the corridor to his classroom. This was a significant moment for me. First of all, it is the first time he has ever left me without me stealing a kiss or a cuddle. I was unprepared. I wanted to run after him and squeeze the life out of him. But I am far too frightened of the Head Teacher to do anything like that. As I watched him walk away, I realised that Noah was taking his first steps into the world by himself. And he didn’t look back.

Hot on the heels of his school induction was his graduation from nursery. Parents were invited to sit on chairs in the garden whilst the children were all inside. The Principal of the nursery welcomed us and made a joke along the lines of, “I hope you’ve all got your tissues ready.” I laughed politely. Ha ha ha. I didn’t have tissues: I wasn’t about to cry. Then the children filed out and sat in a circle and started to sing: the Graduation Song, Butterflies, I Can Sing A Rainbow, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. During all this, one of my eyes – just the right one – leaked continuously. I couldn’t make it stop. And then one of the kids arrived late so they did it all over again. It’s the Butterflies song that gets me the most. I don’t know if it’s an official song or if it’s something that this nursery wrote because it’s called Butterflies. It’s a song about them being caterpillars when they start at nursery and butterflies when they leave – “time to fly”. The metaphor is as old as time, but as I watched Noah mouthing the words and making a half-hearted attempt at the actions, I realised how true it was. Noah is going to school. It’s time for him to fly. I can help him, I can guide him but I cannot control him. It’s up to Noah now. Not that the choices you make at four years old define you, but the whole school experience goes a long way towards defining you and that’s what this all represents.

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What about me? I am starting a new job. I am picking up exactly where I left off three years ago. Career path back on track. Am I a butterfly? Is it time for me to fly? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels a little bit like I’m an ant in a production line, carrying my own little scrap of bread back to the nest. We need my salary to buy a bigger house in this area. Noah is going to be at school so there is no need for me to be at home. In truth, being at home would kill me. I would die of boredom and lack of direction. I am an experienced and skilled teacher. I like many things about teaching and I am not cut out to be a Housewife. What else am I supposed to do? It’s a no-brainer.

But still.

I am not taking Noah on his first day of school. I have been there for 99.9% of Noah’s firsts in his short life so far. But not this time. My husband is taking Noah to his first day of school. And why shouldn’t he? Noah loses nothing by me not being there. But his first day of school is just the first in a long line of things that us FTWMs* have to miss out on. I can’t go into the school and hear children read like some parents do; I can’t go to the parents’ tea afternoon they have once every half-term; I can’t go to Noah’s class assembly. I don’t even know if I will be allowed to go to his school play at Christmas. It’s a loss and I feel it right in my core.

It doesn’t help that Facebook is kindly throwing memories at me every day of my Noah as a baby.

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Like this one…
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 …and this one

Of course, I need to woman up. I need to get over it. Having three years out of full time work to raise my child has been a privilege, not my right. And my child is strong, he is clever, he is confident and he is good (for everyone on the planet except me…and sometimes my husband…and occasionally my parents…). He is ready for school. I believe in him. I believe he will fly.

It’s the end of an era.

Good luck my Noah.

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“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

 

*Mum, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, FTWM is Full Time Working Mum

The Adventure of Getting a Primary School Place

Getting your child into the right primary school is actually a bit of an adventure, and not in a good way. It’s a gamble, a game of risk and, in actual fact, no matter what we do, the outcome is not really in our control. Like all parents of four year olds, I spent the end of last year researching, visiting schools and submitting the application, then waiting the long four months for the verdict: which school would my Noah actually be going to?

I read all of the Ofsted reports, analysed the data and made arrangements to go and see seven local schools. The school visits set my mind whirling. At the first school I visited, I was informed along with the other parent being shown around, that if we didn’t put the school down as first choice, we stood no chance of getting in. Schools in our area are heavily oversubscribed. So if Noah didn’t get into his first choice, it was entirely possible he wouldn’t get into his second, third or even fourth choice?! It made me feel a bit sick.

Education is such a fundamental part of childhood. In the culture we live in – the culture of target setting and exams – primary school is not about cultivating a rounded human being, it’s about results. Sad but true. And Noah has to survive in this world so, of course, my husband and I wanted to do everything in our power to give him the best start.

Private v State

Having been to private school myself, and having worked in local state schools, I can conclude that I am a believer in the state. As far as I can see, there are two main differences which make private schools more successful than many state schools: funding and entrance exams. Private schools have more money. Pupils have their own text books – there is no one-between-two malarkey. Pupils have access to a wide range of equipment and facilities. If you go to a private secondary school, you have usually had to take an entrance exam to get in. You have been selected by your performance. You have been pitted against other eleven year olds and you came out in the top half. You are bright. When you go to a private school, everyone around you is bright. And that makes life easier.

Here is one thing I am 100% sure of: teachers in private schools are absolutely not any better than teachers in state schools. When I was at school, I had a lot of good teachers and one or two brilliant teachers. I also had a lot of awful teachers. I had teachers who could be bullied by twelve year olds. I had teachers who gave us the wrong information about what was in our GCSE exams. And that’s what really matters – who is standing in front of the class – isn’t it?

And so I am a believer in state education. So much so that it didn’t even cross my mind to put my Noah down for the local private school. I am not against private schools by any means. Private school stereotypes really wind me up. You know the ones about Mummy and Daddy owning ten acres of land with a swimming pool, tennis courts and stables as well as a property or two in the South of France? In reality, for over half of the people who went to my school, Mummy and Daddy had to work their little middle-class bottoms off to afford to send their children there. My school friends and I were not born with silver spoons in our mouths.

Truth be told, if our choice of local state schools had not been good, I would have sold my soul to send my Noah private. No question about that.

Church v Non-Church

I always had a vague notion that I would like my child to go to a church school. My husband and I both went to Christian schools. I wouldn’t say either of us are devout Christians. I can’t speak for my husband, but I don’t live by every word of the Bible. In my opinion, a lot of biblical ideas are outdated in the world we live in today. But I was in the church choir when I was a child. I went to church as a teenager although neither of my parents did (I dragged my sister with me). I do believe in God and I am supportive of the Church of England. Faith is a gift and I would at least like my Noah to have the choice to believe or not to believe. If you have no religion in the first place, it must be more difficult to acquire one when you are older.

The school I had always had in mind was the one attached to our parish church, but when I went to Noah’s catchment school, I really liked it. It is surrounded by lovely grounds, has a warm atmosphere and is multicultural and modern. But did I prefer it to the church school?

The Ofsted for the church school is outstanding whereas the Ofsted for the catchment school is good with outstanding behaviour. However, the Head at the catchment school has recently qualified as an Ofsted inspector and they are expecting an outstanding grade at their next inspection. As I said, my head was spinning. I am writing about this as if it was my decision. Of course, my husband had an opinion (or ten) but because he was in Vienna, I visited the schools on my own so, essentially, I was more in a position to compare them than he was.

In the end, the decision came down to two things. First of all, my heart leaned towards an Anglican school. Second of all, the Ofsted.

Here is something I know about Ofsted grades: they change all of the time. I have been a teacher for nine years and have worked in three schools. Not one of these schools has maintained a consistent Ofsted grade for the whole time. The Ofsted inspection criteria itself has changed at least three times in those nine years. Just because you send your child to an outstanding school, it doesn’t mean it will be outstanding for the whole time he/she is there. And the same applies to a good school or even an inadequate school. But the church school has always been outstanding. Even Ofsted couldn’t find any points for improvement on their last inspection. That counts for something. So first choice was church, second choice was catchment.

The Verdict

It was a long wait from when I submitted the application in November, to the 18th April when we’d find out the verdict. We stood a very good chance of Noah getting in to our first choice school. There was an eight point criteria for submissions and we should have been at number three seeing as we were regular church attenders in Vienna. Logic told me that Noah would get in. But you can never be sure.

The verdict would be published on the Essex schools website at midnight on the 18th. I had no intention of staying awake until midnight: I would find out in the morning as soon as I woke up. My subconscious obviously thought otherwise. I woke up five minutes before midnight. Naturally, I reached for my iPad to log on to the website. The room was lit up by the light from the screen. My husband stirred.

“What are you doing?” he growled.

“It’s five minutes to midnight. I’m logging on.”

He tutted and turned over.

I logged on and watched the time changing 11.56, 11.57…0.00 and nothing happened. I pressed refresh. Every other parent of a four-year-old in Essex obviously had the same idea. The page went blank and wouldn’t reload. After five minutes of pressing refresh, refresh, refresh, the page still wouldn’t load and my husband was getting annoyed.

“Leave it till the morning,” he said. “You’ll find out as soon as you wake up.”

I pressed refresh for a couple more minutes.

“This is not fair,” my husband protested. “You don’t have to go to work in the morning!”

“Yes, I do!” It gave me great satisfaction to inform him. Hahaha. He had forgotten that I am, in fact, a working woman now.

But I put the iPad down. My husband went back to sleep. I picked up my phone and checked my email under the covers so I wouldn’t disturb Sleeping Beauty. I did this several more times. There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to go to sleep until I found out what school Noah was going to.

At 12.50 a.m. Noah did me a favour and woke up. I went in and cuddled him (he was scared apparently) and then kissed him goodnight and left. I strode straight back into our room and picked up the iPad. This time the website let me log in.

The boy was in the school.

Even as I write this (four days later) I still feel emotional. The thing is, Noah would have been okay whatever school he got into. All the schools in this area are outstanding or good with outstanding behaviour. I told myself this at least a thousand times in the run up to the 18th April.

But Noah will be going to the best school in the area. He is lucky. We are lucky. And it does feel good.

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At his first Nativity – the first of many