A recent warning that 'hot-housed' kids can flounder in fee-paying and grammar schools if their parents have them tutored through their entrance exams gave me yet another reason to question the choices I made for my child six years ago.
This time in 2007, I was excitedly preparing for my son to start school. Our summer was filled with trips to the official outfitters, taster days and sessions, and enough lists, information sheets and forms to fill a lever arch file
William was four-and-a-half, and my then-partner and I had chosen to send him to our local fee-paying prep. It was costing an absolute arm and a leg (the first uniform bill alone came in at over £500) but we were convinced it was the best option for our only child.
We both worked full time, and although by no means wealthy, we were comfortable, and felt investing in our son's education was more important than moving to a larger house, or taking more holidays.
Our quiet, shy, sensitive little boy thrived at school from day one. The small class sizes and the traditional teaching methods suited him immensely. He took joy and interest in his learning, and bounded in and out of class with puppy-like enthusiasm every day.
For a mum like me who had worried so much about how such a timid little boy would cope with school, it was a huge relief, and financially, worth every single penny - even if it did mean cutting back on luxuries, and working 12 hour days and most weekends.
So why am I now chewing my nails every evening as I pore over senior school prospectuses and losing sleep over the 101 letters from his existing school about dates for entrance tests, mock interviews and open days? And that's only when I'm not panicking over the cost of extra tuition for entrance exams, and worrying endlessly that if he doesn't have it, the only school he might end up with an offer from will be the one costing thrice what I am able to pay...
This is why: fast forward from that day six years ago when my then-partner and I proudly waved our little boy off in his smart blazer and cap, and our circumstances have changed dramatically.
We are now separated, and as I contemplate our child's future schooling, I can't help but wonder if those early best intentions regarding his education have in fact set him – and us - up for an almighty fall.
The simple fact of the matter is that for two separated parents running two separate households it is going to be a huge struggle to continue to educate our son in the manner he has become accustomed – in a small school, with lots of one-to-one teaching and a family-like environment.
How will my son cope with the enormous local comprehensive after seven years in a tiny prep? How will he fare academically? I have a huge worry that he will become bored and lost in the system. And of course, there's that nagging sense that his preparatory education - and all that scrimping and saving - would have been for nothing.
So when I should be enjoying the preparations for what will be my child's final year in primary school, I am instead a bundle of nerves and anxiety over whether I truly did the right thing by sending him there in the first place - along with a burning wish he could stay there forever.
Instead of looking forward to the next – and most important stage – in his education, I am crunching numbers, creating spreadsheets, and emptying our loft of stuff to sell on eBay for the pot I have mentally labelled The School Fund.
It's all very far removed from the days when we simply decided to ease off eating out so often and taking a second holiday in order to write a cheque each term.
A new neighbour quizzed me about my son's school recently, as she is considering sending her toddler there. She asked me if I recommended it. I told her in terms of the school, I did, unconditionally, but couldn't help but warn her to think beyond prep school – those sacrifices you make to send your child to a fee paying school at four are going to be sacrifices you will need to make for at least the next 14 years – and it just keeps getting more and more expensive with each academic year. Something I am now realising to my cost.
Obviously I did not know six years ago that our family unit would change so dramatically and make our financial situation so precarious, but I do wish I had put more plans in place for a worse-case-horror-scenario before giving my son a taste of independent schooling.
The choice I have to make now is far harder than the one I had to make for him at four-and-a-half. Today, I have to choose whether to work flat out for the next eight years just to pay my share of his next round of education - knowing that each year I will have to find more cash than the last - or break his heart (and probably my own) by sending him to the local comp.
The thought of committing myself to such a huge and constantly increasing financial obligation for almost another decade is truly frightening. What if I fall ill or lose clients? Or if work just dries up? What if my former partner loses his job and is unable to pay his share?
But as my little boy excitedly thumbs through the brochure for the school we would both dearly love him to attend, I feel I don't actually have a choice at all - I owe it to him to let him continue on the path I so willingly originally set him on. I will just accept that again, holidays, eating out, and moving house are going to be off the agenda for quite some time. But should I have another child, I will certainly be thinking more long-term before falling so in love with tiny class sizes and of-another-era school uniforms. And I would urge all other parents to do the same.
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