Friday 6 January 2012

The Choice

Tijm pulls his green jumper out of the wardrobe. ‘Look mummy, for my new school!’
I nod, the jumper is just like the uniform of the primary school we visited yesterday. Tijm is ready.

Now we have make a choice, the incomprehensible English school system is slowly starting to unravel. Not that there is much choice. Well, there are public schools, off course. That is, if your four year old passes the entrance exam and you manage to get together over eleven thousand pounds, per child, per year. Not a choice everyone can make. Still, there are plenty, that forego holidays, get a smaller house, just to improve their child’s chance on a good university and therefore job. Even in the twenty-first century. But still. A friend, after a tour of our local public school, highly impressed, sighed, how all reception children sat, in utter silence, working at their desks. Learning to read and write at four years old. My stunned ‘No way,’ was misunderstood. ‘Yes, isn’t it great!’ was my reply. Academically these schools are more than excellent. Yet their rigid, girl-less, environment does not seem right for my lively boy.

State schools vary from outstanding, good and satisfactory to inadequate. Even though here, as well, learning starts at four, a frightening percentage leaves school without knowing how to write. Deep fried food is served. Admission is based on distance, in meters, to the school. Which means you decide when you sign the lease for your house. Something we, as foreigners, obviously did not realise. Luckily our well-off commuters town is known for it’s excellent schools. But, due to a recent babyboom, the schools are bursting at their seams. The mothers are stressed. Who lives a meter outside the catchment area is banned to an unpopular school on the outskirts of town.

The choice of school is a Very Important Matter. The mothers talk of little else. All schools are visited, reports studied, chances weighed. Good strategy is required. Which school will be number one on your list? Which second and third?
I observe, but don’t get it. Do these mothers like their illusion of choice? Do they want to make sure they show themselves to have tried everything? I have long resigned myself to the fact that I will be allocated my neighbourhood school, regardless what I put on my list. A school that has had a bad reputation, but with a new head managed to score a ‘good’. Country wise a good score, but in our town of snobs somewhat shabby, next to the other school’s ‘outstanding.’ Though not nearly as bad as the ‘satisfactory’ of that one school, the mothers nightmare.

No, our school is fine. But it is still an English school, where four year olds need to sit still and learn, as academic achievement is what the government that gives out the ranking wants. The school is at walking distance, next to the nursery school, and has a nice atmosphere. And, Tijm can go with his friend down the road, even though his mum put another school first. We are not unhappy.

Then, all of a sudden, there is a choice. A new school. A free school. Montessori. No British sternness, standing in lines, yes sir. We visit the information meetings and are impressed by the inspiring founders. And now we have to choose. But how do you judge something that does not exist? On practical grounds? We cannot walk to this school, not even cycle over our hills without cycle lanes. It is not next to the nursery school. It does not even have a building and might start in a temporary shed. Only the first three years will start. But against that there is the Montessori philosophy, which appeals to me, especially compared to the static, old-fashioned English education system.
The choice is so little tangible. ‘Which school, then?’ asks Tijm, when I say he might not go to the school with the green uniforms. I can not explain to him. I can not feel the school, smell it’s food, hear it’s sounds. I can not see it’s children, which will hopefully run noisily through reception or, even better, it’s luscious garden.

Now I finally have a choice, I can not choose.


  1. Thanks for leaving a comment over on my blog. I totally agree it is such an important decision to a parent and to have no control, when up until now that is all you have had on your child's life is so difficult.

    I haven't really heard of Montessori but might have a look, I think you have to go with your gut instinct and choose the one you like the sound of.

    Good luck and I hope you get the school you want :)

  2. Hoi hoi, net je blog gevonden via Britmums! Hier een Belgische (getrouwd met een Engelsman) die heel het schoolsysteem hier ook maar vreemd vindt!! Ik ben onderwijzeres van opleiding en heb hier in lagere scholen en een middelbare school gewerkt. Niet meer, 't is te anders! Ik geef nog een beetje privéles 's avonds en dat doe ik graag. Mijn zoontje wordt 2 jaar binnenkort en ik maak me nu al zorgen over de scholen, overweeg zelfs thuisonderwijs (mijn man ziet dat niet zitten), maar gelukkig zijn de scholen hier allemaal 'good', 't kon dus erger. Ik dacht dat je moest betalen voor Montessori? Als die bij jou gratis is, dan zou je toch zeker eens moeten gaan vergelijken denk ik... Er is hier ook een Montessori nursery in het volgende dorp, net een beetje te ver en wel betalen. Allé leuk van nog een Nederlandstalige mama gevonden te hebben die het allemaal wat raar vindt :) Veel succes & groetjes, Sarah (Frambooske)

  3. Great post. I am an expat too and do not quite understand the obsession with schools. It also has to do with class too. Good luck in choosing. Ours go tot he local state school and are doing well!

    Have you joined BritMums yet?

  4. Sarah, wat leuk, een bijna landgenoot hier. Gelukkig is deze school gratis..
    Heb ook eens bij jou gekeken, tot ziens!

    Modern Mother, I know, these weird brits ;)
    Yes, I have joined!

  5. This isn't Ed btw it's his wife I just don't use any of the platforms to comment here so hi-jacked his (moo haha). I have to say I am glad we have removed ourselves from these decisions. We decided to home educate (not for religious reasons) and though it's daunting, I am actually really excited by the prospect, especially since meeting a home educator yesterday. I posted on it here, if you're interested

    Good Luck with choosing

  6. Hello... you can indeed home educate....our boys are 10,9,6 and 3 and have never been to school. Hard work but also an incredible journey. Usually a wonderful community of people doing it wherever you are in the country! You can find info-boards through yahoo groups (usually by county or town/city name), or you can look up Education Otherwise, Education Outside School magazine (Called EOS, which I write for), and is very very detailed on all aspects of home ed-ing. Love our lifestyle and have no regrets. Good luck choosing! x

  7. Ed's wife and motherfunker, thank you for your comments! However, I don't think home schooling is the thing for us, for several reasons. Tijm is a very extravert, outgoing boy. He does very well at his pre-school and functions much better there then at home where he gets bored easily. Linde just started two afternoons as well at a montessori kindergarten and cheers when she gets to go, she loves it there.
    I also don't think I'd have the patience to teach them myself..

    I did just volunteer as a parent at the new free school though, and next week will join a parent panel to judge the new headmaster. Hopefully I will meet some other parents and get to really check it out. We are leaning very much towards the montessori, but I am already missing my walks to and from school...

  8. Ha, how funny to see the problems you are having in my country and I'm finding almost the same problems over here as a Brit in your country. I tried to get my daughter into Montessori here, of which I'd never heard of till I moved to holland, but love the concept for my wild, creative, independent daughter, but alas, I should have signed up when she was two... which I didn't as I was just giving birth to my son... 1year later and no other friends with kids the same age and it was too late, so I called the school in my postcode and was told that whatever happened she would come here and didn't have to be on a waiting list.. so many other things are different here than what I'm used to, but like you, we adjust and we fit in i suppose. I actually find it exciting a new way of doing something... Hope you can make your decision.

  9. I know, it's just about what you are used to... but like you I like the excitement of different. Which is also why we have more or less decided to go for the montessori. That is, if we get in which here as well will be the question.
    In the Netherlands this thing with waiting lists for schools is very Amsterdam, most other area's are a lot easier...If I had moved into Amsterdam from out in the sticks I would have had exactly the same problem, haha