Over the last month I have been visiting local primary schools in anticipation of my eldest starting school next September.
I had not visited a primary school since being a pupil at one myself, and so I was unsure what to expect. I had a list of things that I thought might be important to me but, much like buying a house, my list fell by the wayside when I got a positive or negative feeling for each school I visited. A school that ticked all of the right boxes on paper felt cramped and chaotic to me, and a school that I wasn’t sure about beforehand felt great when I visited.
I walked into the classrooms and tried not to feel overwhelmed by the large class sizes and lack of staff. My eldest currently goes to a childminder with a maximum of three children to one adult, and the thought of one teacher caring for thirty children at once will take some getting used to. I observed the children in reception; did they look happy, were they playing together, were they having fun? My children both love being outside but the inner-city schools nearby do not have huge amounts of outside space. I started wondering if I should look further afield, to schools with a playing field, trees, or even just a bit of greenery that wasn’t astro-turf. Feeling disappointed at the thought of my daughter spending playtimes in a concrete rectangle I even began researching private schools, drooling over the beautiful fields, woodlands and lakes they boasted. A brief glance at their fees page brought me quickly back to (inner-city) earth.
I have friends nearby whose children will also be starting school in September. If we all send our children to our nearest school, our children will have familiar faces in their class, perhaps easing their transition to full time education. Could having a readymade friend to hold hands with for the first few days be the most important factor?
And then there are the OFSTED reports. In this catchment area, we have schools rated from Outstanding to Inadequate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that every school has parents who are happy and proud of their children’s school, so I have not paid too much attention to the reports. If I am honest, however, I would find it easier to send my child to a school rated Outstanding than to a school at the other end of the scale.
Perhaps the fact that all of these thoughts are racing around my head shows that what I am actually struggling with is the thought of letting my firstborn climb another step towards independence. It is difficult to accept that my mud-loving, bike-riding, outdoorsy child will soon be cooped up in a classroom five days a week. Her friends will become the most important people in her life, and I will spend the seven years of primary school learning to gradually let go of her.
It’s a cliché, but more than anything, I want her to be happy. Of course her academic learning is important too, but I am fortunate that I have time to help her with reading and writing, and hope to be able to help her with school work for years to come (if she’ll let me). So I have come to the conclusion that the apparent happiness of the pupils I saw is more important than school results or league tables. My daughter already has a thirst for learning, and if she is at a school where she feels safe, nurtured and valued, then I hope that she will continue to thrive.
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Hannah is a freelance writer living in Bristol with her wife and two daughters aged three and one. When she’s not obsessing about getting the laundry done, she can be found eating potatoes. You can find her on Twitter, read her blog and follow her on Facebook