Starting school, behind the scenes!
Before I begin writing about my experience, I just want to start by declaring that both my husband and I went to state schools for most of our lives.
We moved to North London, to be close to work and to be closer to all the places we love and frequently visit (restaurants!). We did not research schools in the area and always thought that we had plenty of time to worry about that sort of thing but time flew by very quickly!
She was in nursery and after a rejection from the only school we toured while Alvvia was 2.5years old (please see previous blog post ‘Interview from Mars’), we were left deflated. We did not know what more could have been done. We were both professionals and surely if we could pay the fees, that’s all that was required? I will never know how the admissions process works, and to this day, still do not know after meeting many headmistresses, what factors they look into before making their choice. I started to think parents hurl money at theses places to sway their choices. We were never going to go that far (not that we could!).
As Alyvia thrived in nursery, I began to ask her keyworkers, which school they thought I should apply to. They gave me the usual schools in the area, all were independent schools and there was little information about state schools.
Having to pay a minimum of £100 to register to apply for each school, I realized that just registering was becoming an expensive process and this steered me to focus on 4 schools only. I had no ‘back up’ and all schools required a 4+ assessment. As I started to research what these assessments consisted of on mumsnet, I quickly realized that although outwardly, the school staff projected that the children woukd not need to be prepped for their assessments, they all were! I even found out that there was a tutor who tutored 2 year olds specifically for the process!
There was no way I was tutoring my 2.5 year old for such a ridiculous reason and was confident that she would obtain a place through her own merits while being her authentic self.
All the assessments were around the same time (Autumn time), and I had the summer to explain to her that we were going to be looking at some ‘big schools’ for her to move on to. I then told her that she would not have me with her but she could play with a new set of teachers and make new friends. She was a little wary at first but I brushed it off and took the week of the assessments off work to be with her.
The only state school that was rated Ofsted Outstanding, was oversubscribed and we were told early on in the process that we were not in the catchment area so there was little chance of us being offered a place.
We applied to one co-educational school and the rest were all girls’ schools. The school that I had liked best and thought suited Alyvia the most was our last assessment, so I was happy Alyvia would have a lot of practice before that one.
When touring the schools, during the application process, all the pupils seemed to speak confidently, the facilities in most of the schools were very much the same, although in a central London school, everything seemed crammed. It was hard to find a big difference between them all. I stuck to my guns and still had my heart set on the school that was closest to us geographically (which also happened to be the hardest to get into).
I remember reading the interview invitation to our first choice school and it stated that ‘in the unfortunate event your daughter cries or is reluctant to proceed to the assessment room on her own, you will be allowed to stay with her for two minutes before having to leave,’
I was determined not to let that happen with Alyvia. I spent time telling her about all the wonderful things the school offered with the aim of getting her excited for her assessment. I told her she would be playing with lots of toys and make new friends. I also reminded her that mummy would give her a surprise afterwards if she was good (spoke nicely with her teachers, listened to them and made friends).
On the day of this particular assessment, I was extremely nervous and I did not want Alyvia to see that. The assessment was at 11am, she took the day off nursery and we went out to the local park in the morning and then to get some chocolate for her to look forward to afterwards. As we parked up, she looked at me and said she didn’t want to go in. My heart sank.
I knew she could sense my nerves. I called CD and he tried to alleviate the situation over the phone, cracked some jokes and told me to calm down. She got out of the car and we walked towards the school and I showed her all the children and how happy they looked. We were finally let in and were asked to wait in a corridor with the other (very confident, precocious) girls where there were 10 chairs outside a room with books placed on each chair. A lady asked the girls to choose a book and sit on the chair and start looking through their book while she went round and got everyone’s names. Alyvia chose a book and when asked her name, she looked at me first before replying ‘My name is Alyvia and I like bread,’ I had told Alyvia in the car to make conversation with the adults and not to be shy and she was trying to please me and show me that was what she was doing, but I knew she felt uncomfortable. I felt so bad.
Then a stern looking lady emerged from the adjacent room and smiled at the girls and invited them all in. Alyvia went in cautiously and I gave her a big smile. The door closed and I cried. I hated myself for getting so wrapped up in the whole thing and realized this was becoming MY assessment rather than hers. She was only 3 years old!
I stayed in the car and went to pick her up afterwards. She came out smiling and said she had fun. She did not tell me anything else. A few weeks later, we were asked to attend for the second round of the assessment and were absolutely thrilled. We were sure she would get offered a place.
Before this round, she had one more assessment with another school, which I happened to apply to last minute. It was quite far from us but having heard amazing things about the school, I wanted to keep my options open. I was relaxed about this school and didn’t give Alyvia a pep talk. She went in immediately liking the facilities and went into her assessment happily. When I came to pick her up, she ran to me smiling and said that she loved this school and wanted to come here! She gave me a hug and seemed very excited! I was surprised!
I noted her response but still did not want to lose hope on my first choice. The assessment day came and Alyvia again, went in sheepishly. It was a smaller group this time and I felt she would be examined closely. She came out happy (but not as happy as she was with the previous school). She said she was really good, she answered all the questions and played games with the teacher. She wanted to make me happy and again that broke my heart.
Results day came and to our surprise she did not get offered a place. I was initially angry, not with Alyvia but with the process, with the fact that many girls were tutored for these assessments and had an unfair advantage perhaps. I treated this as a personal rejection and didn’t take it very well at all.
A week later, we got offered a place with the school that she loved and started to realise that this was all happening for a reason. I was using my daughter for my own personal battles but did not see what made HER happy.
Here we are now, on the day of starting school after such an emotionally challenging process. She is so very excited to start school and we could not be happier for her. After all, she will thrive wherever she is happy.
I hope you enjoyed reading my experience, if you have any questions about this process please do get in touch, if I can help in any way, I will.