I caught myself dreaming this week of what it would be like to create a perfect school for my kids, after the Government announced its plans for Swedish-style ‘free schools’, set up and run by parents in partnership with charities and businesses. It’s a radical idea and it does appeal to me, especially since the system of ‘choice’ hasn’t really worked for us: DD didn’t get a place at any of the three primary schools we liked and we live in an area where there were big school closures a few years ago when the birth rate dropped and now pretty much every state school is full to bursting.
Imagine it: being able to determine not only things like class sizes and hours, but also having the freedom to find ways of helping children to learn in the way that best suits them, to truly prepare them for life as a fully-functioning, entrepreneurial, creative, emotionally and financially literate, socially skilled and socially conscious adult. Happy kids! Happy teachers! Cath Kidston uniforms!
Then I realised that actually, it’s highly likely that I won’t be getting involved with setting up a free school anytime soon. Because I’m not actually that much of an educational radical. I don’t have the knowledge, the understanding, the vision, or the energy. I’m waaay too lazy to home school, and a free school would basically be home schooling to the max, wouldn’t it?
So instead I’ve decided to throw myself into the life of the school down the road, where DD will be starting at in September, and where DS will follow in two years. I went to the first parents evening last night. Bearing in mind that I was totally resistant to this school during the application process, and cried when I saw that’s where she’d been offered a place, I came away feeling, well, excited, cheerful, and optimistic. Because it’s not Ofsted that makes a great school, it’s the teachers and the culture. And the teachers seem lovely, and warm, and funny, and bright, and caring.
It must be possible for a school that doesn’t look too great on paper to be a great place for your child, where they will thrive and grow and become all that stuff I said. If not, well, that’s what me and DH are here for as parents. As Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve never let me school interfere with my education’.
I know there are probably better ways of educating and raising children than the state school system in the UK. I would love to say I’ll be among those who makes a difference to the future of education in this country. But for the moment, I’ll be encouraging DD to get excited about her Really Big School Adventure, joining the PTA, driving everyone mad by fundraising constantly, and looking into being a school governor. I’m very interested in being actively involved in my children’s school and education to make it as good as it possibly can be. I just won’t be carrying a hod of bricks to build a new one.
Totally agree with you. I am definitely not a fan of the whole free schools thing. For starters, they won’t be free. OK, I understand the whole idea behind giving people choice – I get that. However, the whole thing does strike me as a bit of a cop-out. Surely the money would be better spent on making existing schools better?
I think your positive approach is exactly the way to do it. I used to live in Guildford but we left before my daughter started school. Trust me, you could do a lot worse than the schools there. They are pretty good in comparison to some! I agree that the atsmosphere of the school plays an important part too. If the teachers are happy then the kids generally are too. Good luck with it all.