For some reason I was thinking back to our very first foray into education for our boys. I was lucky enough to have held a senior position in broadcasting which allowed me the luxury of being able to afford private education. I say ‘lucky’ but I worked very had to get there, studied hard and put in long hours. I didn’t land a dream job: I clawed my way up to that glass ceiling, often on my hands and knees.
We weren’t into luxury cars, exotic holidays or designer clothing, so to spend our salaries on something worthwhile seemed logical. I make no apology for ‘going private’ .
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that private education sometimes sucks. You could spend all your hard earned cash on it and still get a bum deal. Still, ‘you pays yer money and you takes yer choice ‘ as the old adage goes. Not complaining – just saying. I need to get this story off my chest because it still bugs me to this day some 20 years on.
Eldest son was 3 years old. We started scouting around for nice, homely, decent schools nearby and fell upon Twickenham Prep – yep – naming and shaming. Whilst the 6 children being ‘interviewed’ … yes interviewed … that day were taken to a room and sat down with a colouring book and a bunch of wax crayons to be be observed ( incidentally the group comprised our son and 5 girls – this is relevant ) the parents were lined up outside the Head’s office to be similarly
Our ‘interview’ was nothing short of a farce. The grinning Head asked both of us where we had attended school. I resisted the urge to say “None of your business” which I thought might jeopardise our son’s chances so mentioned my lowly comprehensive which scored zero. Husband, meanwhile, had had the privilege of attending St. Paul’s School for boys, which is currently heading the league tables for posh schools ( and also hitting the headlines for employing paedophile teachers who have now, thankfully, been imprisoned ) . This hit the jackpot and I hat to sit and endure another ten minutes of sycophantic toadying from the Head who seemed only to think of the academic gene pool our son may have inherited which could potentially nudge his own school a couple of places up the league table.
Interesting that. My husband is the nicest, kindest, most generous man you could wish to meet. He does have some faults though – namely believing that the 14th February holds no other significance than being the day after the 13th February and that I wouldn’t want flowers on our wedding anniversary … oh and the propensity to buy a manopause car every other year … oh and an addiction to car magazines, spending too long in the loo ( with car magazines ) …. but then all of this can wait for another post . By his own admission, he wouldn’t claim to have made the most of his education though. This was back in the gentler days of the seventies when you could still choose a career and graduates didn’t have to work in MacDonalds. He didn’t go to University but strolled into a career in telly to work with his father ( Nepotism wasn’t a dirty word back then either ) and did very nicely thank you . He is actually fantastically talented.
I, on the other had, busted a gut to do well at my under-funded, over-crowded Comprehensive school where half the girls left at 15 to have babies. I was lucky to have what we used to call a photographic memory, devoured books, studied under the covers by torchlight when I should have been asleep and managed to get 10 A grade O Levels, a raft of A Levels and a degree from a top university. Both of my parents’ schooling had been interrupted by WWII . They were grafters too. The work ethic was in my bones. I was nothing if not relentless in my pursuit of a better education. I even took O Levels in subjects they didn’t teach at my school like Latin because I found it intriguing. I must have been revolting but not in an arrogant way , I hope. I was simply blessed with drive and ambition. Sadly none of this counted when it came to impressing
So the upshot of my story is this. Don’t judge a school by its cover. Private schools publish brochures which they grandly call a Prospectus. They are full of smiling children wielding state-of-the-art equipment in gleaming school science laboratories, hurtling towards goalposts on manicured rugby pitches and leering Head Teachers promising inclusivity. Believe them at your peril. Holiday brochures show turquoise swimming pools and wide angled shots of voluminous hotel bedrooms. When you turn up you wouldn’t be able to swing your suitcase let alone a cat in your bijou room and lucky to escape from the swimming pool without a verruca or two.
Trust me – they want to breed a Super-Race of academically gifted achievers with parents who will ask no questions but just pay the bills and mothers ( never seen a single man on a PTA committee ) who’ll run the Summer Fair to raise funds for their gifted and able programme. If you’ve got defective genes, a hint of dyslexia or a whiff of ADHD in your gaeneology then it’s curtains. You’ll be turfed out as soon as you can say Special Needs.
And what happened at Twickenham Prep ? We received a letter two weeks later declining our first-born and were told that ” We had to understand that competition was fierce for places at their school “. Phew , lucky escape. This might have had something to do with the fact that our plucky boy had shown compelling signs of full blown ADHD in the Headmaster’s office that day. Whilst the girls had dutifully coloured between the lines on their princessy colouring sheets , our little lad had found a ball of string and cocooned the Headmaster’s desk in a cat’s cradle of criss-crossed twine. That’s my boy – Proud of you son !