Difficult Decisions: 2013 365 Challenge #313

A plethora of school options

A plethora of school options

I’ve been awake since 5.30am, thinking.

It happens sometimes (especially after the clocks have gone back, and the children’s body clocks are still adjusting). Today, though, I’ve been worrying about schools again. This is a frequent topic on this blog, as regular followers will know.

We are in the (possibly) fortunate position that there are over fifty good schools in a twenty mile radius of our house, all offering different things. We thought long and hard before choosing the school our daughter goes to, and mostly we’ve been happy with our choice.

Our problem, though, is that she isn’t happy. The friendships we thought made the school an obvious choice are proving to be a double-edged sword. Previous relationships are making it hard for her to forge new friendships and people she’s known all her life are behaving differently in the new environment. She’ll be fine, but it is a worry when she complains she’s ill and doesn’t want to go to school. No parent wants that.

My anxiety has been exacerbated by having the first preschool parent evening for my son last night. It wasn’t bad, but it was a completely different experience to the ones we used to get with our daughter. I think that’s actually part of the problem. Our son’s preschool teacher kept comparing him to his sister: saying that, unlike her, he is easily led into trouble and needs a firm hand to keep him behaving.

Green spaces essential

Green spaces essential

Some of that is boys vs girls, I guess. Some of it is because he’s a second child and is used to following the stronger person (usually his sister) into doing things. I can mostly trust her not to lead him into things he shouldn’t do, but unfortunately a pack of three-year-old boys don’t have the same discretion.

Even though our son doesn’t start school for two years, I can already envision the walk of shame, when the Reception teacher walks out to the parent at home time to ‘have a chat’. I’ve seen it happen to others and I don’t want it to be me.

I understand more and more why my sister moved her family to America so she could send her children to a specific school there whose ethos she completely buys in to. I don’t have such strong views, unfortunately. I want a good education for my children, but I also want them to have the freedom to be children: to get mucky and run around screaming and play sports and have new experiences. My son is also complaining about being bored at preschool. In the winter they spend most of the day indoors in a small room, with an equal mix of boys and girls. I know without seeing that he spends the whole day being told to stop running, calm down, behave (I know because I say the same at home).

What’s the answer? Right now I feel I’d have to start my own school to get anything close to the balance I want: the right mix of learning and lessons and free-flow play. My school would have a giant atrium in the middle of the school with leaves and trees and places to curl up with a book. There would be a trampoline for boys to go and work out their energy when they’re antsy. There would be plentiful healthy food and an outdoor classroom and loads of switched-on teachers (male and female) completely enthusiastic about their subject, but fewer tests and worries about passing exams. Ah, utopia how we dream of you!


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 her foot and tried not to swear in irritation. The queue inched forward as young children ran around between the legs of grumpy grownups, yelling and screaming. Next to Claire a harassed mother tried to keep her twins in line, while balancing a baby on her hip. As the time ticked by, Claire felt her sympathy going out to the woman as the baby began to grizzle and the twins threatened to knock the waiting tourists over like skittles.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered eventually, unable to contain her frustration. “It’s not even the weekend.”

“You should see it in the school holidays!”

Claire turned and saw a rueful pair of brown eyes smiling at her. She smiled back at the grey haired lady standing behind her, holding the hand of a bored-looking child. “I came with all the grandchildren, once, because they put on extra activities at half term. But, oh my goodness that was a trial. We were in the queue for over an hour: the little ones were ready to burst by the time we got in.”

“What’s causing the delay?” Claire peered over the heads of the milling crowd but couldn’t see the hold-up.

“Gift Aid,” the woman sighed. “If you’re a tax payer they can claim gift aid, but they have to get your address details from you. Even those with pre-bought tickets don’t get in any quicker. It’s a farce.”

Claire’s irritation evaporated as she realised she’d been handed something concrete to put into her report. She’d done the gift aid thing before, when she’d visited attractions with Sky earlier in the year, and she remembered it did take ages. Surely there could be a better way to claim the money back. Maybe some kind of national gift aid scheme, where you got a card from the government that could be scanned.

The time passed quickly as Claire followed the shuffling feet, her brain whirring with ideas. At last it was her turn and she monitored the procedure carefully, itching to make notes about it as soon as she could find a quiet corner to write into her phone.

All work ideas evaporated as Claire entered the site. She hadn’t really known what to expect. Although she knew the project was about education – about showing the world the importance of plants – she hadn’t appreciated just how big the place was, or that half of it was outside.

A little blue train trundled past and Claire went to get on board. It seemed the easiest way to get a feel for the place, as well as giving her a chance to take some notes. After a short time, however, she got off. The alien domes called to her and she couldn’t wait to get indoors and see what the fuss was about.

Claire entered the Mediterranean biome and her heart sank. Craning her neck, she gazed up at the sunlit hexagons snaking overhead. The structure was impressive, but all she could hear were the noises of the busy pizza restaurant in the centre.

She wandered along the walkways, where endless beds of vibrant flowers filled the air with clashing scents and painted the floor with rows of bright colour. Dotted among the plants were sculptures and displays, like a living museum, while all around there were people chattering and calling to each other.

With her critical head on, Claire couldn’t see much evidence of education. There didn’t seem to be that many signs or displays, although she decided that might have been because they would detract from the view of the plants.

After a while she decided to head for the rainforest biome instead. It was the one everyone thought of when they planned a visit, and she hoped maybe the magic was hiding there.

The heat and humidity hit her as she entered. Despite its size it was still a greenhouse. She could see mist rising above the trees, almost like real clouds indoors. The sound of rushing water pulled at her, until she reached a waterfall stretching high above her. Making an effort to block out the busy tourist sounds, Claire could almost imagine herself back in the New Zealand bush. It was breath-taking.


The wooden walkway curled through the trees high above the people. Claire had retreated up to escape the bustle. She’d contemplated climbing up to the roof platform, despite the height, and was a little disappointed to discover it was closed due to the heat.

Probably just as well. Knowing my luck I would have got dizzy and fallen down the steps, knocking out half the visitors at the same time.

Claire stood leaning on the rail, taking in the beauty beneath her. It was hard to believe the place used to be an old clay pit. It was amazing what could be created with some vision and a lot of effort.

What a shame the experience is spoiled by the shambolic entrance and the tourist traps every five minutes. Do they really need stalls and restaurants and an ice rink? What does that teach the children about the world? That there’s commercialism everywhere? That trees alone aren’t entertainment enough?

Her mind full of profound thoughts, Claire stood and let the view sink in.


2 thoughts on “Difficult Decisions: 2013 365 Challenge #313

  1. Try not to worry about the walk of shame. When my son was at preschool I did it all the time. He went to two preschools, one where he was with his friends from toddler group and one at the actual school I’d chosen. I didn’t look at a single school. I just asked around at toddler group, at NCT coffee mornings and anywhere I ran into local Mums. Most of them recommended two or three different schools but there was one everyone recommended. So I sent him there.

    The preschool for the school his is at was good but could be quite odd. If he banged his head, even if there was nothing wrong with him, they sent him home. They gave me a proper telling off for being in London one day when he banged his head and I couldn’t collect him. The told me the school was only open until 7pm and after that, if I hadn’t turned up they’d call social services to take him into care for the night. They also said he was disruptive because he wouldn’t sit still for 10 minutes and listen to a book being read. They said they could and would hold him back a year if he didn’t belt up. I think a couple of them rather disliked me.

    But I knew McMini could sit in a restaurant for at least an hour, without leaving the table, so I knew he could sit still and be good. I asked my Dad, who was a teacher, and the leader at the other preschool McMini was at. Both said it sounded as if they were failing to engage him rather than any fault of his.

    When he went to the ‘big school’ everything was fine, now that he’s in year 1 and is just blossoming. What I’m trying to say is, it will be OK and once you’ve done the walk of shame a couple of times, you cease to feel it.

    If your daughter isn’t happy and you’re not happy with the school, have you thought about maybe giving it a year and then moving her to another one? Just a thought.

    All the best and don’t worry, really, it will be fine.



    • Thank you, it’s nice not to be alone! I agree about the engagement thing – our nursery is very much geared towards nice quiet girls. I keep complaining that they don’t do enough to wear out the boys. His other preschool is a bit better as they have more space inside and out. I think, as he gets older, I’ll have to increase his hours in preschool, although the nursery pastoral care is better (IMO) and longer hours! 🙂

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