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.