In which we take control of our boy’s education

what path to take

We haven’t had much luck with Dan’s schools.
He has been bounced around at the state’s convenience; certainly not his. It never really feels like we’ve had any power over his destination. He has been a victim of catchment areas and overpopulation.
And believe you me, there is nothing makes you feel like a total and utter failure as a parent when it comes to where your kids go to school.
Just wait until you’re there too and you have issues and come back and tell me how that feels.

We were refused all three of our choices for first school when he was 5 – even though our local school is a 5 minute walk away and we’re slap bang in the hot spot of the catchment area.
We were refused our first two choices of middle school.
All we were asking was to attend our local schools.
In two years time he goes to high school and we live in dread at what that stage brings.
Between frightening government changes in education and our track record, what will become of my eager-to-learn boy?

I read a fabulous blog post from an English school teacher entitled Does Every Child Really Matter? and it really struck a chord with me.
Seriously, if you have a child at school go and read it. It sent a cold chill down my spine as I recognised some of the scenarios painted.

Poorly behaved children taking time and attention away from the quieter ones in class? Tick.
Teacher talking about everything and anything except your child’s performance at parent’s evening leaving you wondering if they actually know your child at all? Tick.
Once your child has reached their target they are largely left to coast? Tick.
Teacher who’s been there for years and years and everyone knows they aren’t moving the children on and are largely ineffective, but STILL they remain year after year. Tick.
The school boasting of its performance, when the reality is they are in a catchment where parents care deeply about their children’s education and so read with them at home, sit down with them to do homework, help out when they’re struggling, boosting their performance. Tick tick tick.

Last year Mia had an amazing teacher and she came home buzzing and keen. The year before was a wasted year; her teacher seemed bored and preoccupied.
A wasted year. A whole year of schooling.

Of course, not every school is like this. But what if yours is? What if your child is the one left to coast when they’ve got so much more to give?
What if you want more for your child? What if they want more?

There is nothing more important than their education. It will set the scene for the rest of their lives. It will shape the people they become.
And here is what I believe; if your child is happy and challenged and in an environment where they feel that the people around them want them to achieve then they will flourish.

So, for the first time in Dan’s school career we’re taking charge.
We have a bright boy who loves to learn. He’s flying high, he gets a thrill out of discovering new things and he enjoys work. He loves school.
When he was a baby we researched the best high chair, the best pushchair, the best nursery. We invested a lot of time and money into it. If we couldn’t afford it, we saved.
His nursery cost us an arm and a leg, but it was absolutely worth it for his development and he blossomed there.
Now he’s 11 we’re making that same investment in him again. Because we absolutely think it’s worth it. He’s worth it. And he’s at the age where it’s really starting to matter.

So, come September he’s moving to our local private school.
It’s not a decision we took lightly. But he visited it and fell in love. Their sporting facilities and opportunities made his eyes stand out on stalks. He said it feels calm there.
He sat the exam and got offered a place and we are blessed that we have been offered a huge chunk of assistance from the school to help pay for his time there.

I messaged a good friend of mine who went through exactly this a few years ago with her own son and ended up sending him to private school. I wanted to know whether it was really worth it, would Dan feel out of place, would he thrive?
This is what she told me:

“Bite their hand off.  Our school was brilliant , it’s their business to be brilliant. They were on the phone/writing letters when he was doing well and the same when he would fall behind. I only have positive things to say about it.
“I always apologised for my son being at private school (it’s surprising how many people ask)  but the children there were mainly the children of parents like us just wanting them to be educated well”.

Of course I’m under no illusion it’s going to be perfect and I’m sure I’m going to have a moan from time to time. But it feels right for us. And what I know is that he won’t be left to coast. And he will be afforded amazing sporting opportunities and he will be taught to be respectful, hardworking and committed. It will be cool to want to learn.
And he will absolutely matter.
On top of all this, he is really, really excited about his new adventure.

When my children were little I was convinced it was important that both of them were at the same school. Now I know it’s important I don’t make that decision to suit me and my husband. Every school is different just as every child is different and I think it’s vital to find one in which they will be a square peg in a square hole.
And in three year’s time we will make that exact same assessment for Mia.


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36 Responses to In which we take control of our boy’s education

  1. Sounds as if you've done the right thing (and well done to Dan on his scholarship, that's brilliant!). It's shocking that the state system let you down so. We've ended up going private too, as returning from the US to London made it very difficult to get the boys into between decent state schools here. It's something I wasn't sure I would do, and I still feel kind of guilty about it – but when I go and see them at school I really do think we're getting our money's worth. It's not a purchase I'm going to regret.

    • Tara says:

      I've spoken to so many people who feel guilty about it N. But here's the thing; you look at the schools around you, make a decision which one suits your child the best and run with it. I don't want to leave Dan's education to chance. I don't feel like I got the best out of my education so we wanted to open up opportunities for him and if he chose to take them, well, all good.
      My recent post In which we take control of our boy’s education

  2. John Clayton says:

    We've been lucky. We had to move from Shetland with the changes Scotland have inflicted on their secondary education system and, through research and a smidge of luck, our eldest is now in a private school 5 minute's walk down the road and she loves it. If I could, I'd send all my kids there. My only concern is it's very arts-focussed, their IT teaching is low-level, but I can top that up at home. First parents' evenings for the boys at the village school are next week so we'll see, but from dealings with the school and the PTA it's a good place to be.

    You do what you have to do for your kids. They are the future and if we want a good future we have to give them the best start we can. That's why we ripped our lives up and moved 600 miles south. It wasn't fun, it wasn't pleasant but it was the best thing I could do for my kids.

  3. Expat Mum says:

    There's no reason to feel guilty about sending your child to private school, especially when the state system has failed so spectacularly. (I can't believe you can't get him into local schools. That's unacceptable.)
    Mine are all at private schools and although I really wanted them to go to the local state school, at the time our first one was ready it just wasn't up to snuff for a variety of reasons. When she got a place at various private schools here, it had to become more about what was good for her/them and less about my ideals. Given that two out of three so far have learning disabilities, I'm very glad they ended up in a school that was more than able to support them.
    My recent post Brits – Moaning Minnies or Realists?

    • Tara says:

      Why do we do that, feel guilty? Well I've decided not to, because I just want what's best for my boy. Great to hear that yours are doing well E. It's such a massive massive thing; you just don't appreciate it when they're little!

  4. Karin Joyce says:

    Wow. Tara you have so made me think. Ella is one of those middle-of-the-road good kids who will get and perhaps is getting lost in the shuffle. In a class of 28 other students I do feel like her teacher just makes generalisations about Ella. There are so many TAs in the room but none of them are for her so I worry about everything. I couldn’t even tell you what she’s learning right now. Maybe in Year 1 that’s not so crucial but your post has definitely made me think! Love to you xx


    • Tara says:

      It's been on our minds for a while Karin to be honest. Dan sat the 11+ which was a great experience for him. We didn't go down the tutor route because I just don't believe in it, so we did it at home. However the grammar school was quite a journey away and it turns out we weren't in catchment anyway (but of course!)
      However, the discipline of sitting down with your kids and spending time to work with them is invaluable. You can get lots of good resources online for their specific key stage too. Mia is in Year 3 now and we're definitely starting to ramp up helping her because she is the oldest in her class and I can see her getting bored

  5. Linda Green says:

    Good for you, Tara. It's weird that for the first 4/5 years of their lives, you, as parents, are in control and then you lose it when they go to school and have to put up with things that you know are not best/right for them. We took similar decision a year ago after our son was frustrated that disruptive pupils/poor teaching and leadership were preventing him learning. Now in a class of 17 with best teacher he's ever had and loving it. So yes, it's worth every penny. We are in a priority area for outstanding state secondary school and he will prob go there at 11 as they have inspiring head and excel at subjects he loves and feels right for him. Good luck with it! x

  6. Reading Residence says:

    Sounds like absolutely the right decision. I believe our children need to enjoy and be challenged to thrive, too, so it's so important to ensure that they're in the right environment, for them, to do this. We're currently waiting to find out which primary school my 4 year old will be offered a place at, so are yet to experience this. I just hope we get into the school that I carefully selected for her – we will see… Best of luck to Dan at his new school.
    My recent post Amelia and Nanette: Sparkly Shoes and Picnic Parties by Sophie Tilley – Review

  7. It's not about state schools vs private, it's about the individual child. Obviously you have to find the money and then decide if the sacrifices you make as a family in order to pay the fees are worth it. Fantastic that Dan got a scholarship which makes a big difference. He's really earned his place.
    Funny how we pay for music lessons and ballet, horse riding, etc… but feel like we're buying privilege if we pay for maths, history and science.
    My recent post The Dividing Wall

  8. Iota says:

    I read that post about Poppy and it made me sad.

    Glad that you've got a good alternative for Dan.

  9. Claire says:

    Great choice. *applauds* We are in a similar situation to where you were way back then. Our catchment school is awful on every level. I’ve visited 12 schools now & have opted for out catchment schools. I won’t know where L goes for another month. I’ve been called a snob already, but I don’t care. L loves learning, she thrives on challenge and investigation. I’ve spoken to her key worker and they 100% agree with me. She needs a good school that will recognise both her strengths and weaknesses. We’ve looked in to private schools, and think we will opt to go that route for junior school onward mainly as our catchment schools are crap. I too read that post. I don’t want L to be invisible. Education makes a different. Parents who value education make a difference. We are a MOD family, we live in a transient community. I understand that makes whole school attainment difficult but I refuse to send L to a school that expects her to fail because of it. Fingers cross come 16 April we get the school we want & then have a few years before we have to worry about Kunior admissions.

  10. Mahala says:

    we got our first choice of primary school, but after three years and half a term, we withdrew our son – for many of the reasons you've listed above. Private schooling wasn't an option for us – the fees would be beyond us and if he got a scholarship, it would still mean a 2 hour round trip twice a day to get him to and from the nearest one. For us, home education was the right choice, for lots of reasons. It's been 3 months now, and we haven't looked back.
    My recent post What Do You Need to Home Educate Your Children?

  11. Super Amazing Mum says:

    Interesting post and one I totally agree with. My eldest would thrive in a private school, he is very much like Dan but sadly the funds are not there for me to be able to afford that. He is bright, but not a superbrain, and very very sporty. Athough he wants to sit the 11+ and more than likely will pass, he would then be in the bottom stream at grammar and I know that isn't the right environment for him. Can I ask how Dan got a scholarship?????? I wonder if this is something I could explore?????? Thank you and HUGE well done to Dan! May he continue to love his education xx
    My recent post Why I haven't blogged for a long LONG time

    • michelle millis says:

      Just to say what out experience was . Our son got refused to the good middle school , the other choice was a school on special measures . We applied to a private school really late on ( the end of April ) , our son passed his 11+ , and we were offered a place . We then had a reality check , there was no way we could afford it . They offered us 2 scholarships after we said we would love him to come but we can't afford it. ( Each scholarship means a 12.5% reduction in fees ) we still couldn't afford it . They gave us a 65 % reduction . ( A combination of Bursary and Scholarships ) the school bent over backwards to help us . And we never felt any pressure to send him on trips , give money etc .

    • Tara says:

      Going through the 11+ system has been a huge huge boost for us. We didn't go down the tutor route, but we worked with Dan at home and he loved it; Dan for maths, me for English!
      It really upped his game and he's come out of it knowing what exams feel like, how stressful they are, how hard you have to work to pass them. All private schools are different so it's worth investigating the ones local to you and what scholarship and bursary provision they offer. It's totally worth exploring. Just message me if you want any more info x
      My recent post In which we take control of our boy’s education

  12. I think it absolutely always has to be about the individual child. We are incredibly lucky to have an amazing school which just got recognised by Ofsted as outstanding. It's a small school where every child really does matter. The head knows everyone, is at the gate every morning and afternoon. The teachers really, really care. The TAs really, really care. No child is left behind – whatever end of the academic spectrum – and they have a really wide variety of sporting activities and after-school clubs on offer. I wish, I really do, that every school could be like that. Why can't they? It should be the case!

    But I know that, even with my position as a governor, we would not hesitate to choose a different school, or a different route (e.g. home schooling) if either of the girls were not happy and being engaged and challenged. My parents home-schooled me (I was given the choice between where I was – local primary that was failing me a lot – another local school, a local Steiner school, taking an entrance exam for a private school – which would have had to be full scholarship – or learning at home and I chose the latter), so that would probably be where I looked before private school, but I totally understand where you are and why you're doing that.

    I hope he loves it there. Sounds like there's a very good chance that he will.
    My recent post MATS Bootcamp – Cuckoo Clocks

  13. TheBoyandMe says:

    I went to a private all-girls school. My mother was determined that neither my sister nor myself would suffer the same appalling state education that the town's two comprehensive schools offered. We both sat the entrance exams and received assisted places for seven years. And it was the best education I had. Was I a high-flier? No, I received relatively normal grades, possibly poorer than many in the school but certainly better than those I'd have had in the state school. I had the best education possible for me, and my mum ensured that happened through hell and highwater; it's a parent's job isn't it?

    Good for you.

    • Tara says:

      this is the thing. Dan would get great grades if he continued in the state system, he's that kind of child. However it's all the other things other than academic success we want for him and this school offers it in spades.
      Totally agree it's a parent's job B. We wanted to open up as many doors and opportunities for Dan as we could and it was up to him to take advantage of them
      My recent post In which we take control of our boy’s education

  14. Steph Oliver says:

    You definitely shouldn't feel guilty about sending Dan to a private school. He's earned his place there for a start! In any event, state provision is really patchy and the best thing you can do for your children is set them up for a meaningful productive life – starting with the best education you can. You know I haven't any children but I too feel that I missed out on a really good education, not because our school wasn't good (although it could have been better) or that I'm not bright, but that I wasn't engaged all the way through and I believe it's the school's role to ensure they keep students engaged. I'm a governor now at a school in a deprived area of Birmingham which has had regeneration but we've had to convert to an academy to stand any chance of improving and delivering acreally excellent education for thr community's kids, who are part of
    our City's future. We're getting there because we have a fantastic head who we'd never have had, if we'd stayed in the control of the LEA. I can see this dilemma from both sides and I think you are unequivocally, 100% right to take every single option you can to do the best for Dan ( and Mia too if it comes to it) because you only ever get one chance at an education. Good on you!

  15. Kate says:

    I understand what you mean about it not being important that the children are at the same school. Mine are happy in their primary school and will both be there until they are 11 unless something terrible happens but once they go to secondary, they may not be to the same school. There is a great, non-selective, non-private girls high school in the south of Preston and I might take the risk of putting that first for Missy as it might be really good for her to be in that environment. Obviously, I will not go against her wishes and if she doesn't like it when we look at it, I will go for what she wants. As it is further away, there are no guarantees but we already know they will both need to get on a bus to school so why not go for it? My kids are very different, so it follows they may not need the same school.
    My recent post Meal Planning Monday – the spring is sprung edition!

  16. Katie says:

    don’t apologise, you’re doing the best thing for him where you’lll both be secure & happy. your son sounds much like mine – maths & sports, in the top sets but left to it. even if we saved we couldn’t afford private school but he’d be there in a shot if we could.

  17. WallyMummy says:

    Sounds like you have totally done the right thing. School is so important and although I haven't started that journey yet I know I would make the same decision in your shoes. xxx

  18. We are privately educating and I also feel the need to apologise for it – we have prioritised education over just about everything else, holidays, treats, new things – we live in an area where the schools are great but over subscribed and underpinned by a phalanx of involved, pushing parents

    For us it is crucial that they get the best education they can, that they are in small classes and nurtured and that they don't get lost

    It is eye wateringly expensive (thank goodness for 2nd hand uniform shops) but they are thriving and academically doing well – I don't regret it but I am saddened that it needs us to do this rather than good education being easily available
    My recent post Not entirely sure where the last week went?

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  20. sarahmo3w says:

    So sorry you had to go through all of this. Your child's education is one of the most important things there is and it's not fair he has been denied a decent education. I am very grateful that our primary school is just around the corner and is brilliant – it does none of those things in that list! Every child really is an individual and we know EXACTLY how they are performing. My son is a very high-achiever and they give him work to extend him, which I'm very grateful for.
    Generally I'm pretty anti private schools, but I know that in your position I would have done exactly the same. My eldest is at a good comprehensive, but if he'd been given our third 'choice' (not a choice at all) comprehensive, I would have scrimped and saved to send him to private school too.
    My recent post Year 6

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