I was aware that this September was when Jellybean would be starting school - but had in my head that I had plenty of time to do a little research on the local schools and decide where to put his name down. I had little idea of the process or which schools had which strengths, and I had NO idea that next week is the deadline for the application!
I got a letter at the weekend telling us we only had until January 15th to apply. I called local schools to arrange visits, as all their open days had been in the Autumn term and we'd missed them (I was still working full time at that point).
We arranged to see five local schools (we have to put three on our application) and managed to visit four of them - the fifth (which is actually our catchment school) cancelled as the head had to teach a class, they have fewer staff than other local schools.
I'm SO glad that I took Jellybean to visit the schools. Going from their websites and ofsted reports I would have picked school number three - but when we visited, the head wasn't interested in Roman, he got his secretary to show us around, she couldn't answer many of my questions and the overall feeling of the school was disinterest and lethargy.
The school we saw first was a maybe from my internet research, and charmed me completely when we went. The head showed us around herself, we had a meeting and long chat with the reception teacher and Jellybean got to play in the class with the other children. They were interested in him, in what we were looking for, detailed about how they could meet his needs and teach/challenge him as well as entertain him and ensure he would enjoy school.
I felt very positive leaving there and knew they were high on our list - and in that frame of mind headed to school two. Which was AWFUL. The head was odd, the classes felt musty, and when I asked about how they provide for the very intelligent children (having been told a lot about how they cater for those who struggle academically) he pretty much said that he leaves them to their own devices to learn alone, and pointed out a girl sitting at the back of the class working on her own, seperate to her classmates, and basically ignored by the teaching staff. This worried me, then when I asked if the local prep school offered scholarships he told me that he actively discourages the children who are offered it from going because 'the smarter children being stolen after we've put the work into them lowers the SATS results, so I don't allow them to leave if I can help it' - and that was that, he was off our list!
Actively holding back children who are given academic opportunities that could improve their chances later in life? Really?
Then we saw school three - the disinterested school - and I was feeling a little flat. On to school four.
The head was wonderful - the teachers all keen, interested, happy and friendly. The children were all happy. There was an atmosphere of fun and you could see they were enjoying their lessons and all keen to progress. There were parents and governers working as volunteers hearing children read in the quiet corners, they all greeted Jellybean (all before they greeted me, since it was HIM who was visiting) and he was upset that he couldn't stay immediately.
A school where they are interested, keen, share my educational ideas (teach to ability, not age, and NO child, no matter their ability is left unsupported, either academically or emotionally, as I'd seen happen in school two) they have excellent resources, they keep the whole family involved in the child's development and work with other bodies in the area, and there's a wonderful community that the family are involved with, and excellent links to the high schools in the area so the progression upwards is natural and undaunting.
I wouldn't have picked that school from their website alone, though their ofsted is great, they aren't the closest and I thought from my research that I had my decision made.
Going to visit the schools was the best advice I was ever given - and has made choosing much easier. School four is, of course, our first choice - but I also know that if we aren't lucky enough to get a place there (as we're quite a way out of catchment, compared to other schools) then school one is a wonderful second choice and I know we would get a place there.
Overall I am thrilled with the experience, and it cemented to me what is important to us as a family in their education and development. I'm glad that there are two schools locally who will be so supportive and will develop Jellybean in such happy atmospheres, and are schools he would love to spend his days in.
He is a keen boy, friendly, academic, bright and desperate to go to school and learn more and play with the bigger boys and girls. He can't wait to read more books and do 'making maths' with his numbers.
I am a VERY proud Mummy, and I'm glad that we've made our choices, but I absolutely cannot believe that he's going to SCHOOL this year - like a big boy! I'm sure I only just had a baby!