This is such a strange time of year for Year 6 primary school parents. January in the UK is roughly the time when the independent schools inform parents if their little darlings have been granted a school place and March is when the state secondary schools do the same.
As children, my sister and I attended a small quaint Church of England School in a village-like enclave of North-West London, now a hotspot for celebs and unaffordable to the average Joe. In those days you only knew about the school if you lived there. Neither my sister, I, nor the majority of the children who attended then would stand much chance of getting into that school now. Like the CofE school my niece and nephew attended, that school would now be dominated by the ‘State ’til 8′ kids whose parents would have chosen to benefit from the ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted ratings granted whilst putting their money aside for prep school at 8 or opting for their children to stay on until 11 for independent school. Some of my niece’s and nephew’s classmates disappeared off to prep school at the end of year 4, aged 8/9. The school prided itself on being diverse, but that was only the case culturally not racially. It seems in order to avoid any ‘white only school’ labels, one or two dark-skinned children would appear at the beginning of year 5. At some point within the first term rumour would have it that these children had been subjected to racist abuse by a small group of their peers, not all caucasian in appearance I hasten to add. In fact there was one case of a very fair-skinned mixed race child with a black mother being prevented from joining in at playtime by a darker skinned child of Russian/Persian parentage. Interestingly this child’s younger sibling looked as though she had been out in the sun for far too long! One suspects the mixed-race child’s black mother was discussed negatively at the home of her abuser.
My niece’s time there was not helped by the fact that the school had attracted one or more prominent VIP’s. Parents were falling over themselves to get their little darlings into this hidden gem of a primary state school. Even the priest seemed to lose all self-respect and humility, pushing parents out of the way during ‘the Peace’ to shake the hands of these people with their security team in tow. During my nephew’s time which was prior to the VIP era, the children who won prizes for competitions were the ones whose parents donated money to the school, headed up the parent’s association or ensured they were on hand to run the school fairs or food and face-painting stalls. No exception seemed to be made for the talented children of parents who were struggling to make ends meet and who did not have the time to help out.
The majority of those who would normally apply to the borough’s state schools now felt under pressure to drag their poor little darlings to every exam going at independent schools offering scholarships and bursaries, even if their children were below the academic prowess required. Those who triumphed had spent vast sums on tutors since their little darling could talk. The others who triumphed just paid the fees fully assured in the knowledge that their over-tutored dunces would be able to network with the right people. The remainder were left to fight for a place at the state CofE secondary schools and that stirred up another type of animosity.
Parents I had spoken to amicably since reception no longer spoke to me. I did not know if they were upset that my niece was not going to the same school as their child or that she was! The mother of my niece’s ‘best friend’ scowled at my niece as she passed us. When I initiated a conversation with her I discovered that the school her daughter would join my niece at was not her first choice. She wanted the ‘ladies finishing school’ as my priest described it. The parents whose children had been granted a place at an independent school now enquired where my niece was going. When unable to draw out the answer from my lips, they pummelled my niece for the answer. Never mind the fact that these people had rarely spoken to me at all since reception. One father whose daughter was to attend a state secondary school demanded to know how my niece had gained a place at a better school. When I questioned his hostility he let it be known that he had allowed my niece to join his daughter at play in the swimming pool. Wow! So we were a charity case now. A large group of parents at this school were unmarried couples. However, my sister being a disabled but divorced parent was obviously a lesser being and someone for the other parents to look down upon.
Now put an undiagnosed child on the autism spectrum into the mix. By the age of 10 the girls were becoming aware of their bodies, boys and the price of each other’s houses. In Year 5 the female teacher had a ridiculous policy of allowing the child at the top of the line to hold her hand while walking from the playground into the classroom each morning. For a child diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, there can be no compromise let alone for an undiagnosed one. Well of course the girls fought over this and the same girl who racially abused a child in reception was now choosing to battle it out with my uncompromising niece. Even though state schools have a SENCO – a special educational needs coordinator, the funding is only there for them to work with statemented children. My issue with schools is that while teachers acknowledge that they need to act as social workers and psychologists in the best interests of the child, few are equipped to do so. It is more likely that they will miss the well-behaved but slightly odd child on the autistic spectrum because no two children are the same. Experience, expertise and a trained eye are required.