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When I was 9, my mother was informed by my school that I should take the 11+ exam, as I was of above average intelligence.
Problem was, there were only a couple of selective schools in the area, and they were both girls’ schools.
My mother asked me if I’d like to go to a girls’ school. I thought about it for roughly 2 seconds, and said no. Resoundingly. I spared not a single second thinking about my education or my future. I just knew I didn’t want to be in an institution where there were no boys to talk to or play with.
I was also completely convinced that I was going to be attending the local secondary school anyway, with the friends I’d had since age 5. End of story.
Except, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, we moved house into a completely different area, and I started at a local state secondary school without the friends I’d known all my life. I spent the entire time overcompensating for my perceived disadvantages as an ethnic minority, and my real disadvantages as a ‘new girl’, and realising that everything that defined ME also made me a bit of a misfit.
School days don’t feel like a distant memory at all. I feel as if I’ve only just left school. I can only assume that’s because I haven’t really come to terms with the way that school made me feel.
I’m angry that I didn’t have the strength of character to stand up for myself. I’m frustrated that I was ashamed of my nationality, and of my musical and creative abilities. I’m exasperated with my spineless tendency to be influenced and manipulated by others, or that I cared about the opinions of people who didn’t value me.
But I’m also disappointed that I was put in that position. 11 is very young – especially for a gawky, innocent, sheltered, oversensitive Japanese girl with zero street-cred. The kind of ballsy defiance and strength my young self would have needed to hold on to my integrity without becoming bullying fodder in the eyes of my classmates… well, that’s strength I can’t always muster even as a grown up.
So what I DON’T want to hear right now, are judgemental caustic comments about my shameful snobbery for sending my son to a grammar school. I even object to the use of the word ‘sending’ – as if I folded him up and posted him there. You send mail. You send naughty children to their rooms. You send a servant to fetch you a drink. I am not sending him anywhere. He CHOSE his school, out of all the ones we went to see, and they CHOSE him. It was a match. It was a meeting of minds.
He is also not at grammar school because we are ‘middle-class’ – whatever THAT means. It is nothing to do with how much our household earns per year, or our social status.
Apparently ‘people like us’ have a HUGE advantage because we can afford to tutor our little darlings for the 11+ test to within an inch of their lives. Well, I actually listened to the head teacher’s assertion that children who were heavily tutored would struggle at grammar school; that they needed to demonstrate raw ability, not tailored exam-competence. We didn’t spend a single penny on preparing our son for the 11+ test. We went through the familiarisation materials together (downloadable for free from the county’s website), and although he didn’t need any encouragement to read, I steered him towards more established repertoire to challenge his understanding and diversify his vocabulary.
Last week, I attended a concert performed by students from his school. I was flabbergasted by the standard of the music-making but, more than their prodigious talent and ability, I was impressed by the motivation, the commitment and dedication of these young people. They obviously enjoyed making music. They created opportunities for themselves, arranged and composed their own music, and rehearsed pieces for the sheer joy of participating in something special. This ‘X’ factor was missing at the school I attended, and I felt quite sad for my young self although, in my case, the hole was more than adequately filled by my local music centre and scholarship scheme.
As I listened to my son perform, I was filled with a fierce pride, and a rock-solid conviction that he was ABSOLUTELY in the right school for him.
I was unwise enough to get into a twitter spat with some bleeding heart, leftist, grammar-school-denigrating, socialist zealot the other day, who was SOOO disparaging about the CHILDREN who attend grammar schools that I might have gone a little beast-mode. He attacked the students, calling them ‘nerdy, self-satisfied geeks’, and attacked me for allowing the class divide to widen by sending my child to a grammar school.
I realise that there are huge issues facing schools, especially those in socially deprived areas, and those suffering catastrophic funding cuts, but no one can persuade me that I should somehow use my own children to prove a political point, or to salve my conscience.
All children are different. Different children thrive in different schools. I did not send my son to this particular school BECAUSE it was a grammar school – he is there because it suits him. He was a puzzle piece that fit perfectly.
My daughter hasn’t chosen her secondary school yet, and we are approaching this with a completely clean slate. We’re doing the rounds of school visits right now. She is an individual, and our duty as parents is to find a school that suits HER – a school that suits her personality, her work ethic; a school she feels comfortable in; a school with priorities she can support and that will, in turn, support her, wholeheartedly.
And as for me… can I let go? Can I stop picking at my school days like a scab that keeps bleeding?
I suppose I can. After all, I learned to get on with people from all walks of life. I learned to be diplomatic and socially aware. I learned that working hard and motivating yourself is your own responsibility. I learned that boys are easier to get on with than girls. (Wait. I already knew that.)
I DIDN’T attend a school where the teachers are called ‘masters’ and wear billowy cloaks. I DIDN’T attend a school where you were called by your surname and teachers threw blackboard rubbers at troublemakers. But I still got my A levels, still went to a good university, and more importantly, I have balance and perspective in my life experience.
I don’t regret NOT going to the selective girls’ grammar school when I had the chance. Because I’m pretty sure, now I think about it, that I’d have been a misfit there too.