What Happens When Your Dream Primary School Just Isn’t?

You know the drill. We swatted up on all our local schools before we put in the application. Listened carefully and asked all the right questions at the Open Days. Got the gossip from parents in the year above and talked about it at home till we were even boring ourselves.

OK, so we were never gonna get our first choice – even though we lived on the same road as the school, less than 100 metres away. It was chockablock with siblings and so oversubscribed the secretary told me to not waste a spot on the application form – *rolls eyes* – but we still had several ‘Outstanding’ schools within walking distance so we were optimistic.

In the end, we made our choice mainly based on the school’s reputation. For a long time, it had been the ‘it’ school in town and I’m embarrassed to admit I was easily impressed by other people’s reports. We also liked that it was a small school and felt cosy and nurturing rather than intimidating.

When we got the letter confirming we had our place, I felt nervous about the change from Montessori to Reception, but also excited and a tiny bit smug. We’d nailed it! A coveted spot in an Outstanding school. Our first big responsibility as parents had come good.

I won’t deny I had moments of doubt over the summer, but they were centred around my son rather than the school. He was still a baby. As an August-born boy who’s young for his age, the basics of sitting still, dressing himself and holding a pen were hit and miss. But the Montessori leader, who I would trust with his life, assured me he’d be fine and my God, he looked cute in his little uniform!

We scooted to school on his first day, high on energy, excitement and good vibes.

Shame it didn’t last. Slowly I noticed his personality changing: nothing drastic to those who didn’t know him like we did. He just seemed like a muted version of himself. Slightly less spirited, slightly more cautious. He lost his trademark daredevil twinkle and seemed stressed about obeying rules. He told me he wasn’t good at writing and reading – despite his Montessori teacher telling me he excelled at both only months before. He didn’t seem to be making many friends and was overly-reliant on one lovely girl he’d known from his nursery; to whom I’ll always be grateful for holding his hand.

My only reassurance was his fab teachers. I bagged myself the chance to volunteer in the classroom a few times and loved what I saw. They were attentive, kind and just seemed to ‘get’ him. I trusted them and was sure they were the best we could hope for.

But then they left. All 3 of them. In the middle of the school year. In fact, out of a pool of 6 staff divided amongst 2 classes of 30, 5 members of staff moved on from reception in 9 months. Call it management problems, call it coincidence, call it a cruel stroke of luck, whatever the reason my son’s confidence was fading, and with it, mine.

I started questioning whether the school was right for us. I was gobsmacked. After all that agonising, all that thought, I couldn’t believe we might have got it wrong. Perhaps the new direction the school was taking wasn’t right for us? Perhaps the ethos jarred with our own? Perhaps the culture wasn’t a good fit? Perhaps *shock, horror* he’d never even been ready for school at all. Suddenly, our ‘dream school’, so recently the most popular school in town, was giving the whole family sleepless nights.

I realise we are lucky to have a school place at all. #Spoilt #PrimaDonnaParent But it’s a horrible feeling to drop your child off at a school you don’t think is right for them. I’m not sure how much longer we can keep looking him in the eye on wobbly mornings, telling him how great it is, how he’ll love it when he gets there. How much longer can we cross our fingers and hope he survives, never mind, thrives?

So what’s next? We are looking around. This time we’re following our instincts rather than Ofsted ratings, schools’ reputations or hearsay. We’re open to options we’ve never considered before; everything from repeating Reception elsewhere to travelling across county or opting out of the mainstream all together. But that’s a blog post for another day…

In the meantime, wish us luck. we’ve got homework to do and lots to learn before September…

3 thoughts

  1. Oh my! I feel your pain! Been wondering if we did the right thing too. You can’t beat yourself up, though. You did the best you could, given the info you had at the time. You weren’t to know.

    Personally speaking, I love the sound of the Finnish system. they start at 7 and can all read/write by Christmas. If I were you, I’d look into repeating the year – its less noticeable now than at a later date. It could well give him the confidence he needs.

    We don’t have that option – our daughter was almost five by the time she started. I feel like school has knocked a lot of her sparkle – I think it’s to do with conformity and having to fit in to the machine that is an institution. If I felt it would work, I’d home school her. Instead, I’m trying to offset the ‘damage’ at home.

    Hope you find something that works for your son.


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