As last week saw our final secondary school visit (since which I’ve been out of blogging action with a near-terminal cold) I’ll share an astonishing find with you.
I was completely wrong about the criteria for choosing a school for your child; it’s not Ofsted, or league tables, or resemblance to Hogwarts or colour of cats you see on the way…it’s the head teacher’s facial hair.
How did I not realise this before?
School 3 (from the list I compiled here) is our nearest and the one I wanted to like for subversive reasons, because most middle-class parents won’t touch it with a barge pole. The Redster and I went on a tour, and actually there were plenty of things to like. It won’t be our first choice but if it turns out to be the Redster’s school I will not be horrified. However, the head teacher had a 1930s-style Gestapo moustache, which would not have mattered so much had he not responded to one parent’s searching questions about the direction of the school (it had a ‘needs improvement’ score from Ofsted) with a glossy-brochure-speak meaningless and evasive answer.
School 1 was where I think I finally got the feeling. For a start it was one bus ride away, not two, in fact the same bus the girls already get to school but a few stops further. It’s been an outstanding school for a while. We were shown around by an endearingly acned 13-year-old girl who introduced each classroom with ‘And there’s my favourite teacher!’ It seemed to be mutual – in fact if there was any logical basis for the warm fuzzy feeling, it was that staff and students genuinely seemed to like each other. (That, and the Francis Bacon pastiche in the Art Department.) We ended up practically begging the 13-year-old to let us into her school. A look at the map of last year’s catchment does show our street, but I know some neighbours who only got in on the second round – I know, it’s like UCAS all over again. Naturally, the head teacher has no facial hair, clearly signifying ‘nothing to hide’.
School 2 was a revelation. We only visited to try to decide whether schools 2 or 3 would be last choice. I had a friend who started teaching there years ago and then we lost touch, but her position had been ‘DO NOT send your child to this school’. Well, that was before the new head. With his rock star facial hair (thin vertical ginger strip going down his chin, as if he’s eating a hamster), he actually made jokes (funny ones) in his talk – and said several times that children make good academic progress when they are happy. So the school sets out to make them happy. Bullying is stamped on and school trips feature heavily. Behaviour has turned around and their results are the third best in the borough, after Scary Selective School #1 and a Catholic girls’ school. I caught up with my friend in her department and she verified that the school is a different place to when she started – she looks forward to coming to work and staff turnover is spectacularly low, so she can’t be the only one. Again, there was palpable affection between staff and students, and loads of enthusiasm. We left feeling really quite confused about what our first choice would be.
A friend told me I should also check out a recently opened local Greek Orthodox school, but when I found out the head teacher was not bearded like a Greek patriarch I couldn’t see the point.
Results from the Redster’s exams at both selective schools should be here any minute, and we have to submit our schools application by the end of the month. To be honest, any of the schools we’ve seen could be just right for her. I have the pleasant feeling that we are spoilt for choice.