Local school or school far away?

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Angus Rodgers
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Report 18 years ago
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My daughter M. [BTW that's not even her real initial] is eligible for entry to two secondary
schools. One
(A) is quite close to where she lives, a shortish bus journey away, but the other (B) is only
reachable via two connected bus journeys.

We have visited school A during an open morning and an open evening, and a production of a school
play. On every occasion, we loved the school, and we have been looking forward to M. going there.
(It wasn't apparent until recently that she would also be able to go to school B.)

The school buildings are light, airy, set in extensive fields, and tastefully decorated with pupil's
artwork, of a high standard. Both staff and pupils seemed genuinely relaxed and welcoming during the
open days.

Pupils from the school are to be seen walking around after school in friendly groups of mixed age,
sex, and race. They are lively, yet not badly behaved.

B. already has a couple of friends there, a year ahead of her, and a male friend (not a boyfriend)
in her class at school who will probably be going there at the same time M. would be going. Also
the girls she doesn't get on with at her primary school will not be going there!

School A is in fact not a popular choice for girls, who are outnumbered by boys there by about 2:1.
(There is also some evidence, both anecdotal and statistical, that parents of more academically able
children tend not to choose this school.)

C. is not intimidated by boys, and, other things being equal, would probably do better in a mixed
school such as school A rather than a single sex school such as school B; so I am not really
worried by the gender imbalance (although perhaps I should be, who knows?).

The problem is that other things are not equal, and my wife and I (who are separated, and have been
at loggerheads over the choice of school, as well as other aspects of M.'s education) have, each
independently, decided that M. should go to school B.

D. is devastated by this turnaround on my part (she is used to conflict with her mother), and feels
that her future happiness is not being taken into account.

There is still a week during which we could retract our acceptance of a place at school B, and
accept a place at school A instead. Although my mind is all but made up already, it feels like an
awesome choice to have to make on M.'s behalf, and I am writing this article in the hope of getting
feedback, which would at least help me to see if I am thinking straight.

(I'm sorry that it's a bit long for a Usenet posting.)

What has decided me in favour of school B is its Ofsted report. (I've seen reports for the years
1996 and 2001, and both are glowing.)

It's certainly not the school building --- which, although nice enough from the inside, is dingy and
depressing inside, cold in winter (to the extent that pupils are permitted to break school uniform
regulations in order to stay warm), and almost entirely lacking in green space, in or around it.

(It reminds me strongly, and unpleasantly, of the buildings of the secondary school that I
attended.)

E. also doesn't much like the feel of the area around the school. (I can see her point.) She also
felt she detected some snootiness or lack of friendliness on the part of some of the older pupils
and staff. I am not so sure of this myself (but then, I am not a very good judge, being somewhat
reclusive and unfriendly myself). Also, the Ofsted report reveals a high level of happiness with
the school, on the part of pupils and parents alike. So I am inclined to think that
F. and I, in comparing the atmospheres of the two schools, have been swayed too much by almost
random first impressions.

G. doesn't much worry about the distance she would have to travel each day to and from school B. But
I do worry about this: because I lived first 15 miles, then 26 miles, from my secondary school,
and I think this contributed to my social isolation there. (I also think that I would have been
happier in a mixed school. I hadn't a clue about the female sex when I went to university!)

What M. and I both liked about school B when we first saw it (it has always been on our mental
shortlist, and it is only recently that M. seems to have become averse to going there) was the
bright and talented artwork on display everywhere (at least on a par with school A), and the
friendly and helpful introduction by a first-year pupil who showed us around (and herself had no
great love for the mere physical accommodation, but clearly liked being at the school).

What has (all but) clinched it for me is, as I've said, the Ofsted report. I haven't read every
word, but I've read at least the main conclusions, and if they are to be trusted, this school
outshines every other State school in the area. (Sorry, I forgot to mention that I am only
considering State schools.)

(It is indeed officially classed as a "Beacon school".)

There are no serious criticisms (performance in maths has dropped a bit in recent years, and there
are fewer pupils progressing to the sixth form), but what has influenced me to the greatest degree
is the extremely positive evaluation of the quality of the teaching at the school.

The 2001 report goes into more detail (years 7--11):

24% Excellent 45% Very good 26% Good 5% Satisfactory % Unsatisfactory (or worse)

By contrast, the teaching at school A is rated (in less detail, unfortunately) thus:

13% Very good (or better) 75% Satisfactory or good 12% Less than satisfactory

It's a huge difference, I think you'll agree. And it seems to me that the quality of teaching is the
single most important factor determining M.'s likely future happiness at any school she goes to.

I vividly remember how terminally bored I was by the lessons at my own school (even though it must
have been successful in academic terms, because in my year it sent 15 pupils to Oxbridge, 9 of them
with awards).

Am I perhaps being over-influenced by my own memories of school? (M. is, after all, a very different
person from me.)

And am I being naive about Ofsted? Can their reports accurately evaluate teaching quality?

(I certainly don't give nearly as much weight to the raw exam results --- and in fact school B is
not the highest- scoring school in the area, although it still does very well indeed. BTW, my wife,
who does seem to care mainly about raw exam results, says everyone she has told about
H.'s being offered a place at this school says, simply, "Take it!" But, not trusting her judgement
or candour very much, I don't want to give too much weight to these anecdotes of hers, either.)

And, even if the Ofsted evaluation can be trusted, should I be allowing this single factor to
outweigh all the other factors urging so powerfully on behalf of school A?

Thank you for your patience, if you have read this to:

The End

--
Angus Rodgers ([email protected] eats spam; reply to [email protected])
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J. Allan
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Report 17 years ago
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"Angus Rodgers" <[email protected]> wrote in message
news:[email protected]...
[q1]> My daughter M. [BTW that's not even her real initial] is eligible for entry to two secondary[/q1]
[q1]> schools. One[/q1]
[q1]> (A) is quite close to where she lives, a shortish bus journey away, but the other (B) is only[/q1]
[q1]> reachable via two connected bus journeys.[/q1]

Don't lean too heavily on your daughter to go to a school she doesn't want to go to.

We pressured our eldest son into going to a prestigious school. Prolonged bout of school refusal and
two other schools later he ended up, very happily, at the local comprehensive.

The prestige school showed a consistent, sorry inability to deal with students who were not, to
put it bluntly, compliant little swots. This is probably not as much of a problem with girls as
with boys <g>.

If your daughter is academically motivated (or if she has particular artistic gifts, artistically
motivated) , she may benefit from School B, but the evidence of that academic motivation would be
that she wanted to go to School B.

IMHO a student of above average intellect will matriculate from a comprehensive well enough to get
a reasonable choice of university places, and, dare I say it, is more likely to apply herself in a
school where she is happy.

Unless you expect your daughter to make her way in life on the basis of her old school tie,
school results, provided kids come out confident and happy, count for very little in the real
world after school.

John
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