You can’t always get what you want. Or so said the Rolling Stones.When we received the outcome of Jonah’s secondary school application yesterday, we had gathered, no, not Mossborne, our first choice – the strict but pretty, newly modernised school in the heartland of our local trendy London ‘village’. Rather, he’d been awarded a place at our second choice: the rejuvenated old local comp set in the middle of what was once a sink estate, but which is now a rapidly gentrifying pocket of once bomb peppered East London.
With a large Bangladeshi community, and a mishmash of chicken shops, high rises and toothless Victorian terraces (our modern townhouse stands on the site of the first flying bomb to hit East London), the area the school serves is still one of the most deprived in London. Twice the size of our preferred option – and despite modernisation, some bits are still a little rough round the edges- it has little outside space (though a plethora of table tennis tables to make up for it) and a history that attests to the challenges it and the school and its catchment has faced, for all a series of super heads has led it, like a Phoenix, to seriously undermine its circumstances, with ‘outstanding’ Ofsteds several years in a row.
But just like that, Jonah’s future was decided for him, which, in this choice- driven society is quite an unusual for spoilt, middle-class me; and I have to wrap my head around the fact he’s going to a school that’s not like the one I went to – a Home Counties girls’ grammar, which for all its academic rigour had its fair share of faults (bitchiness, self-harm, Portakabins, disillusioned staff, yadayada). But there’s nothing like the school debate for bringing out one’s inner snob (cloaked as it always is in ‘doing what’s right for my child’, like the politicians that play to the centre while sending little Edmund to an elite school). But then the school one attends reaches the very heart of who we are as people.
We all know that some schools (mostly expensive ones) confer magical benefits onto their alumni (and I don’t mean Hogwarts), but even, as Jack Whitehall discovered to his cost when I tweeted him the other day, in the wake of an article in which he bragged about the nice opportunities that awaited those who go to posh schools, that spending circa 100k on an education won’t guarantee you know your your from your you’re.
In fact, the current pedantry of the national curriculum goes to an extreme even I’m uncomfortable with, particularly when a) as a copywriter I’ve never need to have a working knowledge of the subjunctive, and b) it’s not what you know, as Whitehall attests, it’s who.
Perhaps therein lies the problem with my snobbery about Jonah’s new school. He knows no one. All his other ‘mates’ – and yes, I’ve already written about the toxicity of some of these relationships – are going to the other school in the villarge. Jonah, who took the news rather better than I did, noted quite maturely, that it would be an opportunity for ‘a clean break’, to start afresh somewhere new. But I, with my middle-class sensibilities rubbing up against the school’s lack of sixth form provision -despite its strong academic record and plentiful relevant extra curriculars- worry about the network he’ll be left with – not that I’ve kept much in touch with my old school friends, except via the medium of Facebook.
Perhaps then it doesn’t matter very much. Or rather, they’ll be other opportunities to broaden his horizons amid a broadly diverse mix of pupils, all offering a different perspective than those he may have met with already. Certainly, the school caters well to Jonah’s particular interests, with a coding club, Bafta game design entries, ‘goodminton’ – they are borough champions at the only racket sport Jonah (and I come to think of it) have ever mastered. So perhaps it’s time to reconcile myself to the fact that he may well take a different track than the academic path I followed- and afterwards floundered with.
But then I think of the school’s size, and the fact I know none of these children’s parents, and I worry what on earth I – and modern society is letting Jonah in for – as an Asperger’s kid, he’s much more likely to be a target for bullying, and in an environment where he’s likely to get lost in the melee, what on earth happens if (when) he loses his shit, but no one cares to know why?
The psychology report that accompanied his school application noted a need for a smaller school, where staff and pupils are familiar with his needs. Clearly this was disregarded out of hand. And either I have an appeal on my hands, or I simply accept his fate as a potentially character-building exercise that better reflects the real world than the somewhat arbitrary nature of most secondary school institutions.
But in many ways, I’m relieved by the decision. I’ve written before about the unusually strict policies and behavioural expectations of the school up the road. Perhaps that’s why my hard won psychologists’ letter was ignored when we tried to push Jonah through on an admissions criteria other than distance ( which was, frankly, a stretch). There is lots I am not a fan off at that school, not least the need to cut Jonah’s hair into something less creative, and the unnecessary sanctions for minor dmisdemanors, such as sock or hair bobble colour (do they not realise we parents have other shit to think about!), that in my opinion set them up for a lifetime of rebellion.
High expectations are only really worth it when they achieve something, and it seems the school Jonah has got into is achieving well without all the window dressing: the uniform is pleasant but relaxed; the staff inspirational, rather than dictatorial. And ultimately, how well he does there will be down to him, as it would be at any school, so perhaps in the end, we may not have got what we wanted, but we might just have got what he needs.