Evaluating Education: 2013 365 Challenge #163

If my children go to a private school will I have to learn to iron?

If my children go to a private school will I have to learn to iron?

I received a prospectus for our nearest public (private, fee-paying) junior school in the post today. Our daughter is enrolled in the state school and due to start in September, but I read it anyway because, why not? I’ll tell you why not! It took us long enough to choose the right primary school, without bending the brain yet further.

We’ve often talked of sending our kids to private school at some point. It would stretch us financially, but so does sending them to nursery so I can write (and they can make friends). You make your choices. Cheaper cars and holidays, no dinners out or weekends away, clothes from charity shops. Easy choices, actually, as they’re not things that bother us too much. But I’d always figured there wasn’t much point paying for education at 4 years old when there’s a perfectly good primary school funded by our tax (well, hubbie’s anyway!)

Our discussions about private education have never been straight forward, either. It’s not just the money. What if our children became ashamed of us and our concrete-coated ex-Council house? What if Mummy has to start shopping at Boden and wearing make up on the school run? What if an old car isn’t good enough? Would I need a Chelsea Tractor to fit in?

My little princess

My little princess

I remember childhood embarrassment. Hiding in the foot-well as Dad dropped us off in his latest rusty yellow banger or when my stepdad picked us up from the school disco in his dressing gown and clogs. I was never embarrassed of them as people, though, or of our house. It would never occur to me not to invite someone home.

I do remember the chagrin of not having the same possessions or going on skiing holidays. I remember a whole school year of enduring taunting from a child several years younger than me, the grandson of my mum’s boss, who’d been put in state school after years of private education. He used to tell everyone I was his Grandmother’s secretary’s daughter, in that plummy voice that made me want to hit him.

What if I felt like that about my own children? I’ve battled insecurity and a lack of belonging all my life, and I dearly want my children to have a different experience. That’s the lure of a private education. The attention, the sport and music, the extra curricular activities, all help children find their niche and excel in it. That gives confidence and contentment that lasts well beyond the relevance of academic grades.

I see it time and again, comparing the friends with at least some private education versus those with none. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?

I'd have to learn to wear a mask over my foot-in-mouth honesty

I’d have to learn to wear a mask over my foot-in-mouth honesty

But will my insecurities mean I suffer and they suffer with me? Will I lose my sense of belonging with my Mummies community, so they can find their place in the world? And should that stop us? Just reading the prospectus left me torn. Because that belonging starts right at the beginning. It says “there is no assessment for Reception year”, which implies there is after that. We might decide we can afford the school in a year or two, only to have them reject us and our child.

There are other factors too. Reading one of the ‘Related Articles’ below, suggested by WordPress, there are arguments I haven’t even considered.

Is it right to perpetuate the class divide by sending our children to a private school? Will they get a sense of entitlement, rather than learning that hard work is the only way to get results in life? I would still want them to work in the summer holidays, as I did, but would that fit with their life/friends/social engagements? It’s a tricky decision and one that will never be straightforward.

We all want the best for our kids. If only we knew what that was.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire tapped some commands into the SatNav and continued driving. Her throat begged for water, dry to the point it was hard to swallow. Inside her pulsing brain, her thoughts raged through the pain.

What is wrong with me? My best friend is practically a wife and mother, and I’m still doing the walk of shame at 5am.

Her cheeks burned as the events of the last twelve hours ran through her mind in unwelcome clarity. While Kim has a career, a man who loves her and a baby on the way, what have I got? She glanced around the inside of her car. A rusty old Skoda that’s my only travelling companion, a boss that wants to sack me, and a daily blog that needs more attention than a new-born brat.

Following the monotone instructions from the small plastic box attached to her windscreen, Claire tried to ignore the stream of self-loathing pouring into her mind. It didn’t work.

I wanted to stay at that gorgeous hostel for a few days. Visit Stratford, maybe take in a play. She thought about the programme to As You Like It tucked into her handbag, picked up from the hostel reception. The manager had informed her that she would probably be able to get a Monday night ticket, if she didn’t mind where she sat.

Instead I go and ruin it by getting semi-naked with a complete stranger. Not to mention bouncing on a bunk-bed in a single-sex dorm. I’ll be lucky if they don’t revoke my YHA membership.

Attempting to stop the torrent of thoughts with rationality, Claire tried to put the incident into context. Shacking up with total strangers and frolicking with them back in the bedroom was closer to her original impression of what hostelling was all about. But, then, she had pictured flea-infested bedding and filthy facilities. All her initial preconceptions had been proven to be rubbish.

Motorway lights paraded past in a blur, as the dawn dragged the darkness from the sky. Claire willed her eyes to remain open, and concentrated on the road ahead. Her eyes ached from staring out of the alcohol-induced fog filling her skull. At last The SatNav announced her favourite words.

“You have reached your destination.”

Claire looked up at the services. She chose not to think about the fact that she had passed one Starbucks only minutes from the hostel and travelled an additional 20 miles to find one that might be open. Her phone said 5.30am. Please be open.

Collecting her bag and phone and, checking the keys were in her hand, Claire pushed down the lock and slammed the car door.

The services were quiet, with only a few lorries parked in neat rows, and a handful of cars dotted around in careful solitude. The sun was only just thinking about hitting snooze on the alarm, and the sky remained steel-grey. Trees and shrubs added life to the paving and tarmac, and the services building reared up ahead in glass and tile. The words Claire longed to see emblazoned the building to the right of the entrance. All around was an air of peace.

Stratford might be a beautiful, ancient town, steeped in history. But service stations offer promise: journeys, moving on, respite and refreshment. They’re soulless, yes, but wonderfully anonymous with it.

The doors opened with a quiet hiss and Claire headed towards Starbucks. It was closed.

“Opens at 6am, love,” called a voice from behind the counter. “You can always go to the Coffee Nation.”

“I’d rather drink from the toilet,” Claire muttered quietly. She checked her watch. 5.35am. Taking her iPad, Claire found a seat and opened her book. The important things in life, like husbands, careers, good coffee, were worth the wait.


27 thoughts on “Evaluating Education: 2013 365 Challenge #163

  1. My parents battled the same issues with me. State/Private? I went to State primary and then they seriously were considering sending me to Private secondary. I decided against it, but then we looked into it again during Year 9. At the end I decided I’d survived the rest of my school career in State so there wasn’t much point changing. Frankly I’m glad. I think I’m a more rounded person because of it. There are so many people at my Uni who literally don’t have a clue! Hope you make the right decision, whatever that is. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I think much of it also depends on the schools that are available, which vary wildly throughout the country! Our choice of primary school is a great school, but we know we don’t want our kids going to the local upper school, so our choices at that point are move or pay! Plenty of years in between to figure that out, though…

    • And I have to add, most of the girls I lived with at University didn’t have a clue, and they were all state-school educated. There were also nearly all August babies. At nearly a year older I felt like the mummy of the group. At least three of them had never used a washing machine… It isn’t just a private education that can leave you ‘unrounded’ 😉

  2. Hi. It depends on SO many things. There are some areas in London where you wouldn’t wish your worst enemy to have to send their kids to state school and others which, even for secondary, are really good.
    Compare say…Streatham to say Muswell Hill. One area you’d happily send your child to the state school and the other you’d think twice. Or at least that’s my view (not least because i had friends at state schools in Streatham and know what was going on and what grades they came out with)
    I think that it depends on SO much. And not least kn your child. A leader will fare better in State school than a follower who might fall in with the wrong crowd. Etc Etc Ec
    Good luck with your decision

    • Thank you! (I’ve just spent a happy twenty minutes reading your blog! My husband is half Italian and his nephew went to a fabulous school in Rimini – now if I could send my kids there…)
      The extra dilemma is finding a school for both children, when they are very different. They’re both musical and into reading but my son is Sport mad (with a capital S) and the primary school just doesn’t cater to sport at that age. There isn’t even any grass on site. I’ve moved my son to a new preschool that has grass, but I do want him to go to the same school as his sister, for a zillion reasons. Finding something that suits them both? Oh for a crystal ball, please.

      • catering for boys and girls in one go is HARD for a mum. I have hear that a lot from many mums – rugby fr him, ballet for her…lessons at the same time. what to do?? etc etc
        But you know what, 2 things always console me (sort of – in an ironical kind of way)
        i) as a parent you always get it wrong 😉
        ii) however hard you try they will get to 13/14 and tell you they are in the wrong school and t’s all your fault
        iii) they all do get there in the end. Someway. Somehow. (even my state school streatham friends! even the one that was a cocain addict. he’s now a famous TV actor…and off the drugs. So there is, more often than not,a good ending.
        Provided we try and we do our best – THAT is what counts

  3. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with this decision! I don’t know if it’s different in the UK, but here, there is not a single co-ed, non religious private school. There are though, some fantastic community schools, and if my daughter wanted to go to school one day, that’s probably what we’d try.

    • Our local fee-paying school is co-ed and not any more religious than the primary schools (maybe even slightly less so). Everything keeps changing though. Government recently announced a potential end to coursework for 15-16 year olds as a way of assessment, with a return to exams. I can’t feel that is anything but harmful. Whatever school I choose, the curriculum will still be the same. I wish I had more energy to be an activist on education! 🙂

      • I get that kids only have a dozen years of education to set them up for life, but then they only have a dozen years before they have to work for the rest of their lives, AND know who they are, what makes them happy etc. Knowing the kings of England or the capital city of Zambia isn’t necessarily going to help them choose a career that will keep them satisfied for sixty years!

  4. I would say, if you can afford it send them to private! I have two ends of the earth children goth girls both completely different complete opposite learning styles. I have had the WORST EXPERIENCES FOR THEM BOTH, in the ‘regular’ ‘public’ system here its called in Ontario Canada–one is over developed and requires challenges, and the other is under developed requiring much much UN given assistance. I am on a different path now finding a ‘special’ school for my under developed to finally be given the chances she needs to succeed, there are SOO MANY things she’s good at and I want THOSE to be the focus–NOT the labeling of disorders and labels in the public system. They just throw them into ‘behavioral needs’ classes and get in trouble more. I am on a long road facing MANY OBstacles–the choice YOU FACE would be a simple decision for me: they’d BOTH GO IF I HAD MONEY. period. But that is my personal experience. 😉

    • Our local state schools are not bad, and certainly I wouldn’t have any problem sending them for the first few years. We’re in a fortunate part of the country and I’m grateful for that. It’s the ‘what if’ questions, though, always!

      • Hey thats a fantastic idea!! Theres no harm in trying it out for a couple years! Either system! See which works better for which child even?! I KNOW my 2 are DAY & NIGHT (loved and cherished equally) but, they DO require different needs!!?? Just a mini thought 😉

  5. Hubby’s oldest daughter went to private school in primary and middle, but it was not available for secondary. So she floundered around woefully unprepared for charter schools, and then did not finish. We preferred different for her because our public school was good. But her mother had physical custody and got her way even though we had a lawyer, family court assigned child counselor assess. What a mess, the judge basically said “whatever the mother decides”. It was awful how unprepared for life the cloistered private school left her. Of course, it was not all the schools’ fault, the mother was a lousy parent when she bothered at all, but we did not get custody and our influence was limited to weekend visitation and a couple of summer weeks. She is 22 now and settled down some, and is now going to community college to adult high school equivalency (and her mother moved away and lost contact as soon as the child support halted ar 18).
    Well, anyway we won the custody battle for his youngest daughter, and she moved in with us in January. She is successfully flourishing in our local public school, about to go to 2nd grade. We believe she will deal with the real world better learning to cope in public school. For those extra advantages, we take her after school to classes in dance, gymnastics, sports at the rec center, such as basketball, swim, and self-defense. We expose her to many learning environments, but supervise closely to avoid “bad” situations. I guess we will see how it all works out..good luck!

    • Thanks. I get the feeling luck is about 90% of the battle. Also, I worry about the extra classes after school and at the weekends, with trying to juggle boy vs girl, football vs ballet and extra-curricular versus family time… All of parenting is headache-inducing I think and the best you can do is consider your options. be flexible and listen to your child…

  6. For co-ed after school class, our daughter really enjoys Tae Kwan Do. Hubby takes her since I’m not much of a fan. There is a glass viewing window and she likes the Audience and making daddy proud, so its a good bonding time to balance out when I take her to swim or dance. Maybe both yours will find a common interest that is not gender specific.

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  8. Private, all the way.

    No contest for me – unless you have a grammar school option, in which case take that!

    Private schools instil confidence and a sense of capability into the majority of pupils. Girls generally excel in private school environments, where they are not stifled from focusing on subjects they are good at/enjoy, simply because for example ‘girls don’t do science’ (yes, I have heard that said by one of my state-school employed teacher friends). As for sport, I know where you live it may be better, but the provision for good, varied sporting activities in the UK state system is woeful and on the decline… From an activities and opportunities perspective, potentially the cost effective equation of private vs state gets balanced by ‘all the xtra stuff we pay for’ vs ‘all the extra stuff the school offers’…?

    Very few private schools instil a ‘sense of entitlement’ – the traditional old boys network ones maybe do, but I would argue that is as much about the backgrounds of the attendees, who are entitled for the most part! What they do instil is a sense of ‘can do’ and a self-belief that is hard to argue with in this day and age. You are unlikely to end up with two mini ‘Made in Chelsea’ extras!

    Also, I would say from experience, the belief that kids leave private school with no clue about the world is a bit of inverse snobbery! They are not cloistered away – private schools experience a share of the issues that children go through at the various stages of their lives (drugs etc). The street smarts they don’t learn at school, they learn from you and the world around them, if you let them. As you rightly say, being clueless is the result of many factors and none!

    Look at me, I’m the product of a private, religious education, with one dreadful year of state junior thrown in, then single-sex grammar school at secondary level… All in all, I think I turned out alright -what do you think?! (and I can use the washing machine (although I’d rather pay someone to do it for me… joke!)).

    (I have to say if the option of grammar schools was on the table I would grab it with both hands, but then my school was private in all but cost due to the nature of the school… One of the worst things to happen to the education system is the dismemberment of grammer schools as a viable option)

    • 🙂 Thank you for this! It swings the seesaw the other way. I spent yesterday with a friend who has children at the private school nearest us, and came away determined my children wouldn’t go there! The benefits I had perceived (sports for example) were a negative for her, because the school is so very competitive. Apparently only the ‘best’ at each sport tend to compete, although everyone must try every sport. It doesn’t necessarily foster a can-do attitude if you love a sport but aren’t very good at it. We still haven’t seen the school for ourselves (apart from it’s rubbish location) so we must reserve judgement. There is a grammar school about thirty miles away that has a very strong reputation. It is tempting to move (I wouldn’t want the kids to have a long daily commute) but that’s a big decision and easily as expensive as paying for private education, given how our house stacks up against the market!
      And, assuming you’re the Giovanna I know (I don’t recognise the email address) then I’d say you turned out fine! 😀

  9. Yes, tis me!
    I revise my opinion:
    Go grammar.

    The kids will get used to the commute, it will add to their social life (I did a 1 hour each way commute to school for 3 years, no lasting damage done!

    Private schools are competitive it is true. I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing – being as how life is competitive (but then, I am a classic arrogant over-achiever-striver type so this is bound to be my outlook on life) and there will always be an element of ‘the best at X get to do X’. That doesn’t seem problematic to me, unless of course it is a case of there being no pick and choose option, for example, as you say above all the kids have to try everything.

    Mind you, at the grammar school we had to do every sport – and had ‘games’ at least twice a week that I can remember – which wasn’t that great for me, since I was rubbish at tennis and athletics (the result of which was a games teacher almost ending up with a javelin through the foot one summer term!). However, we were never made to feel lousy at those things, it was just the established norm that all girls had to take part. The competitive team part was generally extra curricular so if you weren’t on the team, you didn’t feel bad about it.

    It is such a tough decision, you’ll always feel “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”… I do genuinely believe that educationally private has an edge and that grammar is a worthy alternative, but at the end of the day you make a decision based on what you think will suit your child. That’s all you can do – the commentor above is right, you’ll still feel at times that you were wrong, they will tell you you were and at the end of the day none of that matters, everyone gets there in the end 🙂


    • It’s been lovely to hear from you, and get a new perspective. Will definitely widen the search a bit. I don’t think there’s too much hurry as Amber couldn’t be more excited about starting at the state primary in a few weeks (eek)

  10. I think the options matter less at 5!! 😉
    Bless her, she will love it and you will have a mini-breakdown!

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