We got talking.
Me: "Do you miss nursery?"
Monkey: "Yes, Mummy."
Me: "Did you like it a lot then?"
Monkey: "Yes, Mummy."
Me: "But you like school as well though?"
Monkey: "Oh yes, even MORE, a lot MORE!"
He then went on to catalogue all the things he loves about school.
You can't begin to imagine how great that made me feel. You see, choosing a school was a bit of a nightmare for me and I ended up pretty obsessed with choosing the right one.
It should have been simple. I lived here for 6 years before I had children and there's a lovely school within walking distance. I had assumed my children would go to that one. Then I found out two years ago that our neighbour failed to get her son into the school. It was massively oversubscribed, thanks to a huge new estate being built nearby (houses first built 2001, school due 2011!) and more to the point, it was a faith school where you got priority if you attended church regularly. Now, I just don't do that kind of thing so we were faced with the prospect that we might not get a place. Worse, the local authority only allowed one choice and if you didn't get it, they allocated you the nearest school with a place. My neighbours were initially offered a school 4 miles away.
This forced me to look further afield. There are lots of primary schools in the immediate area, luckily all pretty good. I researched hordes of information about all of them, then started visiting. The first school we visited is the school that Monkey now goes to. I guess you could say we only needed to visit one. It wasn't meant to be like that - it just happened to be the first one we visited but from the second we walked in, it felt right. We loved the place, the teachers, the setting, the children, everything about it. Nothing seemed to match up to it - we looked at four as a family and I went to the open day at a fifth. When went to see the school nearby, I wasn't convinced that it was right for us anyway, plus I wasn't convinced we would even get a place, although the head tried to convince us we would be fine.
I still don't know if we would have got Monkey a place there. From what I know, it would have been touch and go. Occasionally, Monkey asks why he doesn't go there as a couple of his pre-school friends do. To add insult to injury, they have red uniforms - his favourite colour - whereas he has to wear green which rankles with him but they are minor niggles.
So, you can understand how vindicated I felt at that moment in the car. He has never once hated school, he didn't miss a day last year and virtually runs into school every morning. It's not just him - when they open the doors at school even on a dry day, the kids come running from all corners of the playground. I love that. If you visit the school, you never see anything other than happy faces.
September is the time of year when parents everywhere start to think about which school to choose for their child as applications for places open. What I learnt going through that process was that the most important thing was to do what feels right for your child (and you) and look for a school that suits them. Visiting a few schools really helped me realise they were all so, so different. Read the Ofsted reports and look at the league tables by all means but they should inform your thinking rather than make the final decision for you.
It also makes me sad that people assume that faith schools are automatically better because it has created a big rush towards them by parents from certain social classes which, in turn, makes the school appear better. If those parents had rushed towards a non-denominational school, the same thing would've happened. It's not the school what did it in other words.
A good school is a good school because it provides an all round education. It's not about numbers, league tables and Ofsted reports (although they provide a useful independent check). It cares for the children in their care as well as teaches them. If it doesn't do the first job, it might not do the second. If your child isn't happy at a school, is it really going to learn well, even if it is the top school in the area?
If you are applying this year for your child's school place, good luck with making your decision and I really hope I haven't scared you!
If you have experience to share relating to choosing and applying for a school, please feel free to leave a comment below (or link to it if you've blogged about it). Likewise, feel free to comment or ask questions if you have that joy to come.