I have already covered, at some length (apologies, but I am still traumatised!), what it takes to pass the 11+. Another important milestone, over here, is to attend the right primary school (the first year is called Reception, and that’s the year when your child is supposed to turn 5). You have all types of primary schools here, but each school has its own admission policy, and, quite frankly, it is a maze. There is also a big craze about going to the right primary school: this is because otherwise, apparently, your child will be condemned to a life of drug addiction and petty crimes. Once again, preparation is key. You are warned (I wasn’t!).
– How far do you live from the school? If you are lucky enough to live in the catchment area of a good state school, competition will be fierce, and there are instances where, out of two families living in the same house (one on the top floors, another one in the basement flat), only one got in (the one living in the basement flat). Some cheat but beware: anti-terrorist laws were used to spy on families who had tried to give a false address. Not nice and a bit over the top…
– Some state schools are faith schools over here (this is hard to understand for my French mind as only private schools are religious in France, because the State doesn’t subsidise them –long story). If you want to apply, you will need all the required certificates (marriage, Christening/naming ceremony… ) and, also a Priest/Minister/Rabbi letter explaining how active in your religious community you are (yes, a religious reference – hard to comprehend for my French mind as religion is a private matter and you don’t advertise it). According to a good friend of mine who desperately wanted to avoid school fees “if you don’t have it, fake it – but start a good year in advance”. I will not comment on this advice. Let’s just say that it seems to have worked for her.
– Then, you have all the fee-paying schools. Some are single sex, some are mixed. Some are very informal, even a bit hippy (you can call your teachers by their first names), others very posh (teach your child to curtsy, it will be appreciated). Where I live most private schools are very posh. The children are being assessed at 3 and what exactly is being assessed remains a mystery. It has to do, apparently, with the child’s vocabulary (not nice if your kid is bilingual) and their attitude (girls need conform and be disciplined!). You might also want to dye your hair blonde (highlights will do, otherwise a wig), be skinny (prepare the interview at least 6 weeks in advance, you can have a hamburger after the interview anyway. What wouldn’t you do for your child?) and finally come wearing big, posh sunglasses even if it is raining and dark . A friend of mine (who, let’s say, is “medium-built”) was initially taken for the au-pair (apologies if I am hurting anyone, it is a true story). If you don’t fit the bill, take a business card with you stating that you or your husband are managing Directors of a leading bank, it will do. Or hire a driver for the day. Or just make a donation.
So why are we all so stressed about getting our kids in the right primary schools? I honestly don’t know, I just went to my local primary school in France and that was it. Is this craze really worth the stress? I am starting to wonder. I just want my daughters to be happy. But at the same time I don’t want them to miss out. I think that I might have become a Londoner!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London