Thursday, 18 June 2015

Education Dilemma - To Private School or not to Private School

As we prepare to return to the UK, and as Miss S is soon to reach her third birthday, our thoughts have begun to move towards options for Miss S when she starts school. It's become one of the more complicated discussions, because there is a consequence for each choice we might make for her, and for her brother, and any other siblings she may (or may not) eventually have). 

In Dubai, there is no state school option. There are only private schools. We were fortunate that Gary's employer woulds have paid for our children's school fees, had either of them been of compulsory school age, while we lived here. 

The difficulty in Dubai had been availability of places at school, particularly those that were within a decent commute, because the school traffic was heavy and not fun for anyone. Miss S should have started school the September after she turned three, rather than the September after she turned four, because the schools incorporated pre-school into the main schooling body, rather than keep it separate, as is usual in the UK. 

We applied to schools for Miss S, before we knew we were leaving, and came up blank. The two schools we applied for (when Miss S was less than three months old) were so heavily oversubscribed that she did not even receive an assessment. Although I'm still slightly in the dark about assessing a two year old, it seems wrong to me on so many levels, although maybe that's standard in all private schools the world over. 

However, school choices in the UK are no less complicated. There are just more options and they all have their own strings attached. 

First of all, the state system. I went to a state school and my grades were well above average. I didn't get the grades I should have done, but that was because of lack of application during the revision period, rather than an failure on my teacher's part. 

I was fortunate that I ended up in the top set for every subject, so we were generally given the teachers who could get the most out of us, and my peers usually had parents like mine, who wouldn't be pleased to hear that we were messing about during lesson time. 

I was also in a great school. I have no idea what the grading of the school was, but it was one of the best in the area and it was enough to impress my mum, which takes some doing. 

So I'm definitely an advocate of state school. I had additional maths tutoring in my GCSE year (the year I turned 16, for those of you not from the UK!), to work through some areas I was having trouble with, and I found them to be of huge benefit for me. 

Generally my opinion is that if our children can go to a good state school, particularly for primary school, then they should. We can always top it up with tutoring if necessary once they are in high school, and I generally feel that is a better option for us financially. It would save us many many thousands of pounds (I shiver when I look at private school prices) and enable us to have more children. 

But, there are always catches. The schools are assigned by catchment area. So the school we choose will dictate where we can rent or buy a house. Miss S will be allocated a school in January 2016, so we need to make sure that we have already seen the available schools in the area and rented or bought in the right catchment area. 

However, there is no guarantee that you'll be given a place at that school, if the school catchment area is over subscribed. So it's also necessary to look at neighbouring school catchment areas and the schools that Miss S may be allocated if her catchment area is full. 

On the other hand, private schools offer small class sizes, and some of the primary schools I have looked at offer such an array of after school activities, it makes my head spin. Miss S would get the opportunity to try after school activities that she may never have the opportunity to try otherwise. 

Private schools also pay a premium for their teachers, so in theory, they should have a large pool of candidates from which to select their teaching staff. Hopefully this means they are selecting high quality teachers, which can make a huge difference to the education experience that Miss S will get. 

My good teachers really made the most of what they had, and I really enjoyed my lessons. The not so good teachers made lessons boring and demotivating, and often had less control of the class in general. 

But, private schools are REALLY expensive. To put both Miss S and Mister L through private primary and secondary school would pretty much rule out us being able to afford another child. We just can't see how we could afford to send a third child to private school and we can't justify forking out for private schooling for our first two kids and not for the third. 

I'm also concerned about the people skills Miss S will pick up if she's in a private school. Gary went to private school, but his parents ran a nightclub, and Gary was often in there helping out or just spending his time there. So he met all manner of people and his ability to get on with just about anyone, regardless of their background, culture, race, sense of humour, is one of his more impressive traits. 

I went to a state school, where everyone is allocated on catchment area. We had a relatively large year group of 240 students and we were all pretty different. I feel like it was an important part of my social development and as my parents were both professionals (doctor and lawyer), it was an important part of that development as I was from a middle class background. 

Gary and I are both professionals by trade (accountant and lawyer) and our children are pretty privileged. They will be living in a relatively middle class home in a middle class town doing middle class things. I worry that sending them to private school removes the opportunity for them to have the same social development that I was exposed to. 

We have discussed splitting out their education, so state school for primary school, and then the option of a private secondary school, when they turn eleven. This might be a better option all round, although it still places much pressure on us financially and it still leaves in question the ability to have a third child. 

Thankfully moving to Warwickshire means that we will have access to Grammar Schools as Warwickshire still have their Grammar School system in place.  I think this is a great halfway house, that we can aim for our children to take the eleven plus, and see how they do. We would still have the option for private school if we felt it necessary, but we woulds have great Grammar schools open to us. 

Although I don't know how I feel about our children potentially going to different schools, as not all of them might pass the eleven plus. 

It's a bit of a dilemma for us, and we honestly have no idea what would be best for them. As Miss S gets closer to school age, we are no closer to really having come to a firm conclusion. So I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you have children already at school!