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?
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?
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.