Sunday, 16 June 2019

School Choices

We chose our house, 7 years ago, partly on the areas potential for class struggle. Because we are that 
ridiculous and left wing.
Part of what informed that decision was my husbands involvement in a campaign to save a number of 
primary schools across the city, in which residents of the scheme had been particularly militant. 
The school was lost but, almost as a consolation prize, the building was repurposed as a 
community centre which now hosts a youth club, gym, free computers, welfare rights advice and a 
food bank. It has become central to the life and survival of the community.

We moved in and we were not wrong to do so. We're all very happy here. Plus the residents 
association has recently affiliated to Living Rent.

Five years later, of course, I had to register the eldest child at school and noticed, as if for the first time,
that there wasn't one to send him to.
I had become the only middle class mother in the world to deliberately move to an area because of
its lack of schools. Go me!

After closing our school, the council tacked our scheme onto the catchment area of the nearest other 
scheme-school. This is not the nearest school. Getting there involves a long walk along a dangerous 
road (they do provide a bus but I don't trust them not to cut it). 
Plus the teachers seemed a bit fatalistic about the kids life chances and local mum-chat suggested 
they weren't so hot on bullying. By this point my son was a head smaller than kids his age and, in the 
nicest possible way, already a bit odd.
Also there's a difference between a scheme-school on your own scheme and a scheme-school 
somewhere else. I don't know what that difference is- but it seems important.

I did some brief lefty hand wringing about my reluctance to send him there (catchment schools are, of 
course, sacrosanct objects of lefty affection). Then I spoke to the other nursery Mums. Every single one 
of them were putting in a placing request to somewhere else. It was a catchment school in name only.
I felt like this gave me a green light to just go ahead and pick wherever the hell I liked. 
We put him down for the Gaelic School.

Four kinds of parents pick the Gaelic school. Nationalist Head Bangers, Actual Gaels, West End 
Trendies and Ambitious Parents in Working Class Areas. 
It's one of the best performing schools  in the city and its the only top performing school that you can 
get into without living somewhere extremely expensive. It therefore attracts a surprising number of 
pupil premium kids. All of them with fiercely aspirational parents.

Of the four categories, my husband fits firmly in number one. He'd have sent a kid there if all they ever 
learnt was an appreciation for William Wallace and the ability to play that giant harp thing. I'm more 
number four. I weighed up the options and decided that this was the least worst.

Two years on, it's not been easy. Here's something people don't tell you about high performing schools.
They whittle. If your kid is not doing so well, you will get called in and hints will begin to be dropped about 
how, perhaps, this isn't the best setting for them. This has happened to most of Gaelic School kids in 
our area, including us.

It's shitty. It makes you wish you chose the scheme school where, you imagine, the teachers are more
used to kids being a bit slow to read and don't make you feel like crap about it. Maybe they are a bit 
more proactive. I bet they don't just tell the parents to get their kids up to standard or fuck off; you find 
yourself thinking.

I spent a Christmas holiday bashing the Fuamin (Gaelic for phonyms) with my son and sent him back 
more or less reading. The teachers attitude softened towards us. Life went on.

Then we got called in again. Something was seriously off with my sons concentration and focus. Could
we start the process to get him assessed for Autism? 
I thought of his complete lack of engagement at school and his suspiciously fast progress at home; a
fact I had prevously viewed with bemused relief. Suddenly it made a little more sense. I made an 
appointment with the GP.

This is where I started viewing the school a little differently. For background, middle class parents do 
not typically view this school as especially good for special needs. My sons teacher, in particular, 
doesn't have the best reputation.

And yet…. She noticed a problem I hadn't. She sat with me for well over an hour talking me through the 
processes the school must go through and the different ways to help him in the classroom and at 
home. She printed out useful information from the internet and sent it home in his school bag. She did
say that funds probably won't be available for a TA (which I suspect he needs) but that seems 
to be a problem across the city, not with his school in particular.

By contrast, I recently learned of a kid at the catchment school. This kid sounds similar to mine in his 
concentration and learning troubles. None of this has been done for him. He's just been left to do 
colouring in. By himself. For 3 years. 

I don't know what kind of thing the middle class parents were expecting (I know I described myself as 
middle class earlier- I feel like I am until I mix with these guys!) if the Gaelic school's efforts 
seem inadequate to them. Its more than I could expect in any other school open to us.
Actually, they must mean the whittling. The constant threat of being whittled.

Still, I imagine myself trying to fight against the kind of complacency other Mums are facing at the 
catchment school and I feel like I've made the right choice.
I was wrong to imagine that teachers in scheme schools are working hard to find imaginative and 
engaging ways to get slow kids to read. Sometimes they are (the kids nursery was like this). 
Sometimes they're just shrugging their shoulders and saying "Well, what can else can we expect from 
kids like these?"

I've placed such a serious academic barrier in front of a kid who already has trouble learning. I've made
him do all his learning in a different language. And yet, I've removed a larger barrier: the total lack of 
expectations he would have met with, elsewhere. 

And yes, we are going to spend the summer holiday's working on his writing. 10 minutes per day. 
No excuses.

No comments:

Post a Comment