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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!).
Here are a few examples of what you are going to be asked:
        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
  • I can totally understand you. Getting into the top private and international schools on this side of the world is crazy too. I thought I was going to faint the day my son had his exams and interview. I guess the stress comes from the fact that as parents, we want to give our children the best possible chance to succeed in life. But I think that the most important thing we need to ensure is that our children are happy and comfortable in their learning environment. 🙂

  • interesting, and yes my daughter of 14months has been down for 4 local primary schools since shortly after birth. Also wondering about the lycee since daddy is French. Assume your girls did not go there?

  • I think I missed a bit: how does posh and skinny link back to an offspring’s academic performance? Maybe it’s time to start your own schoo (Ecole MuMu) or even (gasp) consider home schooling! 😉

  • Ha – Great article. I watched a TV programme about all this last year I believe. Very enlightening. And not in a good way!

    I can’t bare the fruit of my barren loins unfortunately so I’ll never be in this position but if I were I think I’d home school – Hire a teacher who can give them one on one tuition. As well as this, hand pick socialisation classes: sports. ballet, piano. By the time they’re eleven they will be well equipt to attend most schools – they’ll be engines poised to take flight like a Boeing 777 (would I really do this – MM? – Lord only knows.

    Perhaps the local primary will doodle do after all – it’s not like they’re going to be teaching anything like ancient history or Latin. It’s basic numeracy and literacy. How great does the school need to be? I’d hope for it to be close and clean and for there to be suitable certificates of education from all teaching staff – anything more is a bonus. I’d CERTAINLY not put them in a faith school. Religion is a personal choice – I personally think they should decide for themselves when old enough (though I’m not religious and that obviously taints my opinion).

    Good luck with this. Shah. X

  • Ohh, so true! I realised how difficult it is to get to the wanted school too late. Nobody told me anything, nobody warned me. My daughter turns five in September and she is still in the nursery separate from any school. And the flat we bought 7 years ago.. lets say we didnt think about schools at all. It was perfect location to for my DH work, 5 min walk, but we are not in the catchment area of any good schools. There is just one school in front of our house which is the worst probably in the whole north London. Which I didn’t even put on the list, and all the good ones just outside the radius 😉
    I think I will write a post about my as another foreign mom’s story 😉

  • I have to say as an Irish expat I find several thing stranges with the English system. In Ireland you just go to the local primary school, end of story. Why would you do otherwise, increasing travel, stress to kids and weakening the sense of community?

    Similarly you tend to go to the nearest Secondary School – even if they are religous they have to take applicants equally and there is no question of getting landing papers from clergy etc; As an atheist I find the amount of parents who discover religion when their kids are 9 here is hilarious!

    Lastly in Ireland you have to do a range of 7/8 subjects including Gaelic,English, Maths, a science subject, a foreign language and either Feorgraphy or History so you leave with a broad general education. I’ve never understood why they force kids to specialise so early in the UK – to me the system really seems to exemplify too little real choice and too much selection / examination?

  • Wow that sounds like a lot of stress. Our school system (in Pennsylvania, USA) is very basic either you go to the public county or city school in your area or you go to a religious private school. Both of my children went/go to public school. My daughter is now off at our State University. My brother who lives in the city sends his children to private catholic school and it gets pretty cut throat at the high school (9th-12th grades) level. I get the skinny and blonde hair thing as that seems to be the desired appearance over here as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • My own children attended an ‘alternative’ school called the Waldorf School, all transferring in grade 6 to ‘public’ school. Of the three, two followed a French immersion tangent with one graduating officially bilingual. The interesting thing about the shift from this alternative school to the public school system was this: the teachers claimed all Waldorf School children had something in common, a tendency to what they described as ‘refreshingly original thinking’, so different from the other kids in terms of originality.

  • You’ll blog looks hilarious, excited to be following! 🙂

  • @ Sam – same here. I sometimes feel useless!
    @WorkingLondonMummy – French Lycee was oversubscribed when we arrived. It might have changed. On top of it, all the students seem to be smoking and the discipline was, let’s say, not great. Again, it might have changed. So no, we didn’t go.
    @Isabelle – it is all about looking the part. And finding a rich boyfriend to become a kept woman. I must have missed something.
    @ shah – welcome and thanks for your comment. Am on the same page.
    @ random mama – Keep me posted. It is a nightmare.
    @ DC – that’s what it is all about : in the best schools, you have more subjects.
    @ Jenn – good that you can rely on a good state system – not always possible here
    @ Cathy – so you are a francophile! original thinking is definitively a strength!
    @ Casey – Welcome!

  • I attended a Church of England Anglican school in England (which was just the regular public school in our village.) I think the children had a fairly good education and a basic outline of the Christian faith, which certainly didn’t hurt anyone and probably guided many as times of difficulty arose in life. My own children attended public school here in Canada mostly but have friends who sent their children to Catholic Schools (which are publicly funded) specifically because of the religious component.
    Basically I am opposed to private education (especially in England) because it completely feeds into the class system, the ‘us versus them,’ the ‘working class versus the snobs’ etc.
    I found that being involved with my children’s school by volunteering half a day a week or being involved in certain committees etc. was the best way to know what was happening – the greatest influence of course is still the home!

  • My children are long past elementary school age, but much of the same nonsense goes on here in the US as well. I could be wrong but I think the pressure is on women, particularly, for their children to go to the right schools, and indeed to be perfect in every way, lest we be judged as inadequate mothers. Great post, your English is more than commendable!

  • We moved at a bad time of the year and all state schools around us were full. We were lucky though to find a private school that had a place and there was no testing of the child and no requirement for me to be a blonde or/and a banker 🙂 Two years later we are absolutely convinced that we stumbled across the best school in the area.

  • I cannot imagine a system that forced that kind of pressure. There is pressure, for sure, here in the states, but it seems to be self-imposed. Because the choices are so abundant, people become adamant about making what they feel is the BEST choice. In my experience, people end up being successful from a number of directions.

  • @ Elizabeth – Glad you found something that works for you. In London, we don’t have much choice…You are simply not taken seriously if you don’t go to the right schools. No way.
    @Sweepyjean – You are right, the pressure is on the Mums – but here, the dads have to pay for it
    @ LJB – Same here – Am wondering whether my daughter is in the same school than your kids?
    @Meagan – you are right. That said, some schools here have an appalling level (especially in maths). You don’t want your kids to miss out and have to catch up. They simply can’t do that here!

  • The education system in the UK is a minefield. The standards should be the same in every school across the country, but unfortunately they’re not, hence the “fight” to get into a school of choice.
    We, unfortunately live in an area where there are no schools (Can’t believe we didn’t check that before we moved!), and the schools in our catchment are miles away, and pretty sub-standard. We send ours privately, and although they teach the curriculum, they gear the education towards gaining entrance to public (private) school for their secondary education. We can’t afford to send them all to public school, so we are now having to pay for them to take extra lessons to practice taking their 11+. We still have the grammer system in place and we have to do this if we want them to attend a state school.
    It’s hard going and incredibly stressful, and it really shouldn’t make a difference where you went, but unfortunately it does. Employers don’t just look at your degree but where you were educated as a youngster…wrong, I know, but our children all deserve the best education there is.