My daughter has just finished her last interview for London top secondary schools. In this country, this is called the 11+. Going to a secondary school is a selective process and only the best get their first choice of school. The selection is ruthless and my daughter had to deal with a lot of pressure. All of this is already well documented and all of it is true ( the reality is in fact much, much worse). Having being educated in the French system, I am kind of used to this.
What is less talked about is how it affects mums …I wish I had taken some meditation classes to keep my cool. I basically survived on Daylesford organic brownies and 5k runs. I do not recommend it, despite the fact that I managed to lose some weight during the process (not a lot. Damn it)
First of all, forget about any kind of social life from September of year 6. Just write it off. Cancel any work engagement. Then, find a good tutor or be prepared to tutor your daughter yourself. Do not believe anything you are told by the school, all the girls are tutored and must be prepared unless you still believe in fairytales -and at the end of the process you won’t any more. Prince charming will not come. Some mums learned it the hard way-. Some girls even started having a tutor at nursery (on top of the school fees, of course). Really. That said, do not kid yourself: the 11+ can not be outsourced, you will have to get your hands dirty. Do not count on your husband, he will be on business trips at all the crucial times and there is no point in complaining, they all do it and you don’t want to start divorce proceedings during this process anyway.
Then, information is key. You have to pump the other mums for information and-shock horror-, discover that sometimes you will be interviewed too. My advice: preparation, preparation, preparation. You have to attend with your husband and present a united front. It was tough for a friend of mine whose hubby ran away with her best friend. But, for the sake of her darling daughter, she did it. That’s what it takes. I think that there might be a business opportunity for pretend-husbands here. Oh, and the power stripes are mandatory for him, he must look like a banker (see (http://mumugb.blogspot.com/2011/01/empire-stripes-back_16.html#links). Then, you have to understand that most Sloane Square mums look similar:
– blonde. Blonde highlights are acceptable, hair extensions are a real bonus
– loads of foundation on the face (do not even think of visiting a school without make-up). Botox is recommended
– designer clothes. For some unknown reason, most of the mums look like they are going to go horse riding (please do not bring the whip or leave it in the Chelsea Tractor), and they accessorise the look with a Prada bag. I have tried to look around to see the horses but couldn’t find any.
I am ticking none of the above boxes. I have bought some fancy boots but the girls are laughing their heads off when I am wearing them. With a mum like me, my daughter does not stand a chance. I would be taken for the French au-pair, which would not boost my self confidence. My only choice was to hire an actress or to choose schools with no interviews for me. I chose the latter ( but just in case I had a skinny friend lined up to represent me).
Finally, be prepared for anything. My daughter was asked about what was happening in Tunisia. She acted as if it was perfectly normal for a 10-year old to analyse Tunisa’s political situation and explained that Ben Ali’s wife stole a ton and a half of gold. In short: do not let anything bother you. Maybe, after all, she could tutor me now.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London