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Lately I have began to think more and more about my daughter starting school (and in fact my son one year after). In all honesty the more I think about it, the more I dread it! My husband does too infact!

I hated school! As a preschool child, or so I have been told, I was very intelligent, but wierd! My first memories of school are of crying because I didn’t want to sit down in assembly. The work in school, I found boring and unchallenging.  All the other children knew each other but I had moved there from Carlisle so didn’t know anyone and had a funny accent.

My husband had worse experiences of school. He was bullied and excluded by the other children, yet although the teachers noticed, they did nothing about it.

What bothers me now about school is the emphasis on achievement even from the foundation stage. The whole importance of conforming and not recognising children as individuals. I think young children should learn through experiential learning rather than following a curriculum. Even before I had the children I remember learning about schools which didn’t follow a curriculum but followed a humanistic and holistic approach to learning (I can’t remember the name though.) I thought what a good idea this would be and how I would have loved to learn in this way.

As much as I try not to also, I am terrified about my children being bullied. It is impossible not to be, there are so many horror stories and teachers are afraid to do anything these days.

I have done my best to socialize my children. They have lots of friends and my days off are spent either seeing friends, in playgroup or in the park or soft play. Hopefully they will learn to socialize and to stick up for themselves. However I still have this worry!

In an ideal world I would love my children to go to a small independent school such as a Steiner or Montessori school but even if there were any round here I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

So Homeschooling is the alternative. The fact I would even consider it is pretty mad. You see I am pretty much Miss Mainstream. I read New magazine, watch Xfactor and the soaps and shop in Primark (and Topshop when funds allow).  Nor am I by any means middle class. My children were formula fed, they eat chicken nuggets and smiley faces. I am not a person who one would even imagine would consider anything so radical as homeschooling. Most people who know me would think I needed sectioning or something to even think of the idea seeing as most of my Facebook statuses consist of things like ‘OMG how long til bedtime?’ or ‘aargh these kids are driving me mad’.

However they are my babies and I want the best in life for them. I want them to be happy, confident and enjoy life so I dread sending them to main stream school.

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SchoolSchool admissions policies are back in the news, and the actor Rebecca Front has an excellent article in today’s Guardian on the dilemmas faced by parents in the face of these policies.

I don’t want to start a debate here about school admissions policies (or approaches to education) as such. Instead I just wanted to post a couple of thoughts on what happens when “gentle parenting” meets a school system in which parents’ decisions are driven more by desperation and fear than by a calm, considered assessment of what is best for their children.

First, what do our children learn from how we make choices regarding their education? The system seems designed to teach children that it’s a “dog eat dog” world in which those with the sharpest elbows win. That their educational choices are entirely a matter for their parents, not for them. That the school in which you find yourself at 11 completely determines your life path, with no second chances. Are we teaching them that “gentle parenting” and “unconditionality” are just a front, and that when the chips are down what matters is a ruthless pursuit of self-interest?

Second, what pressure are we putting our children under, and from what age? Our eldest, T8, has just started year 4 at primary school. We live in an area with a lot of selective state schools – don’t get me started – and some of T8’s classmates are already having tuition in preparation for the selective tests in two years’ time. This puts us under pressure – are we letting T8 down by not following suit? – and more than that it puts the children under pressure.

Third, the system leads parents to fixate on “winning the admissions race” rather than finding the right school for the individual child. There are children who scrape into the local “super-selective” school having been tutored and coached to within an inch of their lives, and who are then utterly miserable. The lucky ones are able to persuade their parents to send them to one of the good non-selective schools to which they should have gone in the first place, and perhaps would have if their parents hadn’t been propagandised by the media (and by years of conversations at the school gate) into thinking the only choices were between St [Name Deleted’s] Grammar School and educational oblivion.

Any thoughts?

Image courtesy of most uncool, under a Creative Commons licence.

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