Here is the latest instalment…I am still talking about schools (I am still traumatised…). Let me know what you think!
Schools often like parents to help by listening to children reading or supporting other activities. Getting involved in your children’s schools can be a full-time job (unpaid, of course): most schools have a parent-teacher association (PTA). You will be asked to help for fund-raising events such as bake sales and fairs. If you manage to get your child into the school, that is.
Life In the United Kingdom, (Almost) Official Study Guide
March 2012 – She’s got a place!
Work is as busy as ever and I still need to find a good school for Alexandra. It just never stops. As I don’t want my toddler to miss out on a good school I have talked to friends and colleagues about the situation. They all tell me that I am far too naïve and that children need to be prepared for such assessments. How the hell was I supposed to know? Apparently, everybody does it but nobody talks about it.
A friend sent me straight to an acquaintance of hers, who, for a mere £300, prepares Alexandra for the assessment and the interview. She has been coming twice a week for the last three weeks. I am not supposed to tell anyone about this, it is all very hush-hush. The tutor, apparently, did me a favour. She said that she has a long waiting list. This is a business opportunity I need to look into, when I have some time. When you tutor a child, you get paid but the family can’t complain. In fact, the family can’t say anything.
To cut a long story short, Alexandra is expected to be able to write her name, count up to twenty and, when she makes a drawing, she needs to be careful about the details, and put the eyes and nose on all faces, for instance.
I am a bit skeptical about the whole assessment thing but I am getting desperate for Alexandra to find a good school. I try to enrol Alexandra at our local state school, just like I would do in France, but Archie becomes ballistic and withdraws Alexandra application behind my back. What is going on? He says that it is all about having the right friends and acquaintances and adds that he doesn’t want Alexandra to start to speak Urdu. It all sounds a bit racist to me, and I tell him that as long as he doesn’t mind paying an arm and a leg for our daughter’s education I will follow his instructions. He says he will pay. Fine. he calls me a champagne socialist. Here we go again.
I have found anther good private nursery just a bit further and the headmistress has agreed to see me today despite the fact that we have missed the ‘official’ assessment session. This is my chance and I need to make the most of it.
I then have another hurdle to overcome: Archie is in China for two weeks. How can I manage the interview without him?
Well, for starters, I have been on a crash diet. I am skinnier than ever and starving all the time, which is not nice. I will stuff my face when Alexandra has found the right school. I have found a lovely vintage Gucci dress at my local charity shop.
I have to think outside the box to replace Archie. I take a deep breath, and decide to call Graeme to ask him to be the pretend-dad for the interview. Desperate times, desperate measures.
I know it is disingenuous but hey, I really want a good school for Alexandra and this one seems lovely. Graeme seems happy to help. He says ‘yes’ without any hesitation and adds:
“ Well, if Archie needs me then of course I will help.” Archie is not aware of anything, he is far too busy in Beijing. I don’t need to bore him with the details anyway.
Finally, I have booked a driver and a limo for the morning. I am a bundle of nerves. Graeme is all smiles and very smartly dressed today. He really looks the part. Alexandra has been told that Graeme will be ‘Daddy’ for the day and she finds it incredibly funny.
Our limousine stops in the middle of the narrow lane, right in front of the school gates. Our driver dutifully ignores the honking cars behind us and opens the car door. I smile and take my own sweet time to get out (my high heels are in the way, and it is quite a pain), followed by Alexandra and Graeme. Some mums are looking at us. One of them says “Hi” as if she knew me. I smile back and wave. Good start.
Nobody took me for the au-pair this time. Yay!
Intrigued by the noise, the lady at the front desk has come to open the door.
“ Hello, Alexandra! You are here for the assessment, right?”
“Yes, Madam” Alexandra mutters.
“What a polite little girl! Welcome to our school!”
Alexandra is beaming and starts holding the lady’s hand. She takes her to the teacher.
We get in and the headmistress is already in the hall, waiting for us, all smiles.
So far, so good.
Graeme starts immediately to butter her up.
“ Sorry for keeping you waiting, Alexandra is our first child, the driver is not used to the school just yet.”
“ Oh don’t worry, it is not a problem at all”
We sit in her office.
“You came highly recommended by all my colleagues at Goldmann Sachs”
“Oh yes, we have a lot of your colleagues’ daughters here” The headmistress laughs.
I am trying to join the conversation.
“What a great building!”
Graeme gives me a condescending look. Come on, it was a nice try!
“My wife is French. She doesn’t understand the British system. That’s why we need your help. I feel strongly that Alexandra will have a great time here.”
The headmistress smiles. It is obvious that she likes Graeme.
“ Well, your wife is very lucky to have married someone as aware as you then! We do our utmost best to educate the girls and get them into the best secondary schools.”
What? Alexandra is barely three and we are talking again about secondary schools. I don’t think that I will ever get this system. And why is Graeme putting me down at every possible opportunity? I really can’t trust this guy.
“You see, unlike the French system, we see the child as a whole, and we are trying to help our girls discover the world. On top of our academic curriculum, we take great pride in our range of after-school activities.”
Obviously, you have to pay extra for this. Obviousl. An arm, a leg and an ankle…
“This is wonderful, Darling: Alexandra could even start ballet here! Alexandra is already a very good dancer, you see”
Yes, she loves Kylie Minogue. Especially “I can’t get you out of my head…”. Somehow I don’t think that I should mention this.
I nod and smile.
“ I don’t know where she got it from, my wife doesn’t really like dancing”
What did I do to put Graeme in such a mood?
“ That’s right, Darling, I was more a sporty sort of girl.”
“And our pastoral care is second to none. The girls can talk about anything and we will listen.”
Here we go again. What is this obsession with pastoral care? Alexandra already has a mum. I don’t get it. Pastoral care doesn’t exist in France. You just have to go with the flow.
“Right, it was lovely to meet you both. We lurve the dads to come for the interview.”
“Alexandra will be with you shortly. I will call you as soon as I have talked to the teacher who assessed her.”
“Thank you so much for agreeing to meet us” Graeme is as charming as ever. The headmistress smiles back, delighted.
We finally get out.
“Well, that went well.”
Graeme is very proud of himself.
I am starving. The three of us go for a hamburger and it feels good to final be able to eat to my heart’s content.
I get a phone call later in the afternoon. Alexandra is in! They loved her.
I immediately call Archie on the other side of the world to tell him the good news.Well, I hope it;s a good news. How can we even afford the fees? But hey, he is delighted.
“How did you do it?”
Well, it was hard work. I might have overdone it a bit, actually.
“ You don’t want to know. Graeme helped.”
I take a deep breath.
It is really good to get my life back. Phew, I have one problem less to solve and I will be able to focus a bit more on my work, finally. It feels good to be back in the game.
That said, I still have no news from my Permanent Residency application and I am getting even more worried.