Some of you will be going through this or will remember not only the agonising wait to find out what secondary school your child was to be accepted into, but also the difficult decisions to be made when making choices for the business end of school life, which senior school will be best for them and can we predict how our best efforts will effectively shape our child's future for the best? The word 'gamble' springs to mind.
My eldest son Bobby is somehow on the verge of becoming of senior school age, so for me, today was spent on one of many tours of schools to work out exactly what our options are and where I would like to end up spending the next five years driving to and from twice a day in the name of my child's education.
Today's tour wasn't so vital to me, because if I'm being honest, this was simply a product of Bobby's unrelenting requests for me to consider BM as an option, something that initially I wasn't particularly supportive of. It only seemed fair that as Bobby attended a tour of my first choice school begrudgingly on the inside, willing and intrigued on the surface, I should do exactly that in return.
Bobby has many friends from both his local football team and the not too distant Kevin Adams Performance Academy he attends that have all flagged up their intent to attend BM next September, something that cements for Bobby, this school firmly ahead of its rivals as first choice.
However, for me, this alone was not a strong enough argument to sway me from hoping that an application to a highly regarded private school would be successful and so our visit today would be an irrelevant yet sporting gesture on my part.
Bobby has been lucky enough to have attended private schools up until now and because I feel he is a very capable young man I was, and to an extent still am, keen for him to continue to get 'the best schooling' available to us. I didn't want to waste anyone's time but wanted to keep an open mind and carry out my promise to my son and take him to see what the local buzz surrounding this state school was all about.
Firstly Mr W, the deputy head-teacher should be highly commended for his presentation of his school. Maybe if he wasn't a very good teacher, a career in sales would certainly be looming. Any salesperson would tell you that the easiest product to sell is the one you believe in. I felt like he hit me with a torrent of impressive yet practical solutions towards getting the best out of not just any young student but equally as importantly, the teachers too!
Clearly Mr W has spent many years at BM and his pride for the place gave it value before we had even left reception. (For the record for the points that his questionable choice of tie deservingly lost, his brand new shiny brown brogues reclaimed the deficit.)
The reward system is staggering yet simple, a 'grown up version' of a reward chart that would incentivise any pupil to go above and beyond in the pursuit of a new iPod. Just one of the 'Christmas present worthy' gifts they can earn by achieving a certain amount of house points.
In contrast, there were detention lists, naming and shaming, there wasn't many names up on the no none sense disciplinary system, you get a third detention you don't go on the free school trip to Thorpe park, who wants to be the kid left behind?!
Despite the naughty list the focus was very much on celebrating what's good about our kids while subtly making bad behaviour 'uncool' with the firm but fair exclusion of repeat offenders from the trips and events they wouldn't wish to miss. I found this very reassuring; a school with strong principles!
For me, taking away the privileges is a tactic that has worked well consistently over the years for my two. Labels and stigmas caused by empty criticisms are lazy, harmful and dated so I applaud their methods of giving direction through cleverly placing the responsibility of behaviour within the hands of those most able to do something about it... the individuals themselves!
On our tour we walked into a number of working environments and without exception the classes were all settled, focused and engaged in their tasks. The teachers I saw in mid-flow spoke to their pupils with an authoritative passion for their subject that would explain exactly why they had everyone's full attention. I was blown away when I saw that all of the children who were asked what level they were working at were able able to respond to Mr W in detail with exactly what they had to do to reach the next stage in their level of competence - such attention to detail! Each child was in control of their working standards, all motivated to improve, all no doubt benefiting from the self-esteem and confidence such a trusting, empowering system would encourage.
On the forefront of my thoughts throughout my two hours in the school was 'How would Bobby fit in here?'. The truth that I am quite happy to admit was that he would be fantastically happy at BM. OK, conveniently, yes he would have his friends but beyond the security of familiarity he would have clear boundaries, powerful incentives, social opportunities and access to sports and drama facilities that would turn his current interests (and interests he doesn't yet realise he has) into solid GCSE grades and beyond that, potential career paths.
I have to say that I was so impressed. My priority is to steer both of my children successfully through their education whilst maintaining the smiles on their faces and as you can tell my experience was a positive one and entirely thought-provoking.
It was the dying wish of their late mother Jade that both boys be kept in private education, a luxury both Jade and myself were not afforded as children. But contrary to popular belief, private education has proven to be a little less of an obvious advantage due to a less than satisfactory spell at a previous school for my youngest.
He has been at a state school since the start of this school year and the change was most certainly inspired, If Jade was here, I'm sure seeing the transformation in her baby in such short period of time would have been enough to warrant her approval. It certainly begged the question 'What on earth was we paying for and does that private school label actually suit each child?' Absolutely not!
That said my eldest and youngest are poles apart but on reflection I actually don't feel the pressure to keep Bobby in private education for the sake of keeping the prestige and vanity of such a affiliation, as I'm sure some do. Doing what's best is completely different for each individual. It's hard to predict which option would be the best path and which would lead to the best grades. The best experiences in attaining those high grades would be best summarised as its not the vehicle you travel in but simply the destination at which you arrive. In the showroom window both schools, Bobby's choice and my own, are very different propositions but I can't help feeling like BM would be a car my son would enjoy driving and love every single mile travelled, a car with character and a personality that would mirror his own.
It momentarily made the other seem like a expensive 4x4 that you begrudge filling up with diesel and besides do you really need all that boot space?! Whatever happens will be for the best; the children have some pretty strong characters looking out for them up there and they haven't let us down yet. A child's happiness is a balance of many things, and school selection is important yet so is health, affection, love and fulfillment. Mine have all they need and all that I can give, and just like manners cost nothing, it costs nothing to love nor to respect and these things will carry you far beyond your education.