In September my daughter will start secondary school. She’s been in a very good state primary school until now. Yet unlike all her friends, we are sending her to an independent, academically-selective all-girls’ school.
‘You must be very rich’ People have commented. Others think we consider ourselves posh. The truth is that we are neither of these. “I don’t believe in private schools.” One friend told me. Well, if truth be told, neither do I. I wish all schools were as good as the independent school we have chosen, but I am not prepared to negate my responsibility when I see education as the most important gift you can give your child.
I have worked in state secondary schools long enough to opt out of the system which I know is not fit for purpose. Everywhere, the traditional model of the comprehensive is being replaced by huge academies serving thousands of students. Expanding schools do not cater for the individual. A teacher could be teaching at least several hundred different students per week. How can they be expected to get to know each child well and cater for their needs in such a huge environment? The teaching profession in these schools is just about on its knees with lack of respect from students and parents not to mention the Government. Increasing administration and a slavish adherence to targets, means that most teachers are burnt out and the strain on the profession leads to long-term sickness and an endless supply of substitute teachers. This impacts yet again on students. Not only that, but there is the peer pressure to consider. These days there is so much emphasis on how young girls look, that I have heard many parents complain about how their daughters are getting up at the crack of dawn to apply a full face of make-up because they feel they must conform. All schools, no matter how good their OFSTED report, must also deal with low level disruption in most lessons, stopping others from learning. There are continued funding cuts which mean class sizes continue to increase and opportunities such as careers guidance and learning about mental well-being, disappear.
The state school system at secondary level has become a lottery system. Some students do perform well. However, I tutor many students privately, who have not been able to complete their GCSE courses because of disruption from students’ behaviour and prolonged teacher absence. I don’t want this for my daughter. I want her to be able to learn if she wants to, without some disaffected child disturbing the learning of her and her peers. I do not want her to enter a world where she feels her merits are judged purely on her ability to apply foundation and mascara before eight am.
In the nineteen eighties, my parents chose to send me to Nottingham High School for Girls. It was academically selective and single sex. My parents struggled to send me there and I know it caused them no end of anxiety and stress. Yet, my school days were incredibly happy and I believe it was the best place for me. The environment I learnt in was caring and nurturing. The teachers knew all of us well. I was taught that I could achieve anything that I wanted to with hard work and determination.Much of the underlying ethos surrounding equality for girls, was embedded in the curriculum, so that when I went to university, I was confident and unlike the other co-educational female students, I did not allow the boys to speak first. I want to give my daughter the education that I received. I do not expect her to be a Doctor or a Barrister. I have no set ideas on what I want her to do with her life, other than to be confident and happy and to know that she has been given every opportunity possible.
So, over the next seven years we will do without to pay her fees. No holidays, no new car, no hand-bags and no buying on a whim. I’m not complaining, as I made that decision, no one forced me to send her there. She’s very naturally academic and intelligent and I know she will thrive in such a challenging environment. She has since sat the entrance exam and been awarded a small scholarship.
When we visited my daughter’s new school, we knew that the facilities and opportunities would be impressive. However, what really struck us was the attitude towards learning that the girls possessed. We went into an art class for year nine, last thing on a Friday afternoon, when we would have expected to hear a lot of noise and possibly some disruptive behaviour. What we saw was a group of polite and interested girls who were fully involved in and committed to their learning. My daughter made up her mind there and then that it was a school that she felt would be right for her.
“I know I’ll be happy here,” she told me. I couldn’t agree more.