On being selective

I’m not wading in to the whole debate on selective schools (for the record, I’m against them) – that’s not what this post is about. I visited a school today that made my jaw drop for so many reasons, not least of which was the location, with stunning buildings and grounds. It was phenomenal. Beautiful countryside, huge fields, a drive up to the main building that made you wonder where the Whomping Willow was located… Amazing.

Incidentally, the fees for day students alone are almost £20 000 per year. It’s no surprise there’s not a leaky roof or plastic chair in sight.

Ultimately, what this school really made me feel was out of place. It’s not that I didn’t expect to feel a little overwhelmed; I genuinely power-dressed for the meeting. Nothing makes me feel more ready to kick backside than a suit and killer heels. But as I drove my Fiat into a car park filled with BMWs and Alfa Romeos and Mercedes, a part of me that was bigger than I care to admit felt like I shouldn’t be there at all.

Several hours later, I still felt jealous of the beautiful grounds at the school, but I was glad to be leaving and knowing that tomorrow I’d be going back to teach at the local maintained school where I’ve been since 2009. I fit in there; these are my people. My car doesn’t look out of place, I don’t need to dress to impress, and I teach all kinds of students, not just the wealthy and entitled.

One of the reasons I was there was because there were a couple of complaints made against a member of staff by two parents. The serious manner in which the complaints were being addressed had led me to believe that they were serious complaints. Well, not so much. The end result was that a couple of students aren’t doing enough work but the parents chose to blame the teacher. The teacher isn’t doing enough spoon-feeding, apparently. These are ‘middle of the road’ students – A/B students. That’s a very different road than where I teach! The school were supportive of the teacher, but I’d hate to see how they deal with a real complaint. It was incredible.

The teacher and I wandered the corridors a little bit as we spoke following the meeting. She was quite chatty with a lot of the students, but I don’t know, there was just something about it all that seemed a bit too surreal for me. I can’t judge the school based on the couple of hours I was there, but hands down I’d say our students have far more character – for better or worse – than what I saw of these students. For me, I prefer the characters.

If you can afford to spend more than most people earn in a year on schooling for your kids, then good luck to you. If you choose to work in an independent school like this one, good for you. No judgement or criticism. But a couple of hours there did little else but remind me that I’ll probably always work in state education, in a school that welcomes students of all backgrounds, financial statements and abilities. It’s where I belong.

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