Friday, 2 September 2011

The Parenting lark #3: School's in

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this post, so please bear with me. But I have been thinking some thinkings, and these are the thinkings that I have thunk.

Matilda is starting école maternelle on Monday, which is a huge RTBC for her, for me, perhaps not for Owen, who is going to miss his big sis. So, here is my first thought... or feeling... or major source of irritation. Just because Matilda was not shipped off to a nanny/nursery from the age of six months, she is not necessarily a social recluse. Just because I decided to stay at home with Matilda does not mean that I'll be swinging from the nearest rafter when she grabs her Flash McQueen rucksack and scampers through the school gate. If one more person tells me that I, or she or both of us are going to be blubbering wrecks on Monday morning I might, well, I might harrumph very loudly. I do not feel in the teeniest bit sentimental about Matilda heading off to pastures new. There are stages to life, we are about to enter a new one. Matilda is very excited about going to school and I think she'll enjoy it. I'm under no illusions that there might not be a bit of trepidation and hesitation. I'm told it is quite common for this to come at the beginning of the second week. "What I have to go again? But I already went to school last week." But I don't foresee any major difficulties for any of us. I'll let you how know wrong I am in due course.

My second thought is this: should I have thought more about where we are sending her to school? We enrolled her in the closest state school to us, it's a two minute walk from the house. It's quite common for children to attend private school in France (a large percentage of the fees are reimbursed by the state) and we have a private school just next door. A Catholic one. One of Matilda's little friends at the park is going there. His mother looked quite shocked when I said we were sending Matilda to the state school. Likewise, when I was talking to our friendly neighbourhood wineseller, he told me they had enrolled their little boy at La Calandreta, an occitan school (all the classes are in occitan, the local language) because their ethos is more carey sharey. He went on about how important it is to have a good start in school. He said he has friends who are teachers and mentioned that some of the schools in Béziers are little better than zoos. There is no hiding the fact that there is a class issue and a race issue here. The kids coming out of the private schools tend to be white and middle class. When I looked at the class list for Matilda's new school, it was clear from the names that these were not the kids of la bonne bourgeoisie. We live in one of the poorer areas of Béziers.

I am confused about how to approach Matilda and Owen's schooling. Part of me thinks it is ludicrous to be worrying about this already but another part of me realises how important school and education are. At the age of three, although it is called école, I don't think of it as school. I'm not especially keen for Matilda to learn anything much beyond how to live and share with and listen to and respect others. I think before the age of five it is much more important to play than to learn. I have heard stories that frighten me about children in école maternelle being given marks for their work. I sincerely hope this is not the case at the school we've chosen. I'm also keen that at so young an age Matilda is exposed to a broad social mix of people.

But what to do when she's a bit older? It seems to me that people start thinking about schooling very early. What kind of education do we want for our kids? I am a product of the state school system in the UK. This did me very well. I went on to become ridiculously over-educated, which doesn't seem to have done me very well. But I think that has less to do with my education and more to do with with me, and the kind of person I am. I want Matilda and Owen to enjoy school and to be educated in an environment which allows them to do the best they can. Between these romantic ideals and the reality of what I can make available to them is probably a whole world of parental anxiety. I don't have any solutions currently. I do take a lot of responsibility as a parent however to support and compliment whatever route through education my kids take.

I wish two things for Matilda and Owen. I want them to be good and I want them to be happy. I know that the years they spend at school will be hugely influential in the achievement of either of these predetermined maternal goals. I can only repeat myself and say I do not have any solutions, but I damn well feel the pressure to get it right.


  1. I don't have much to add to your post because you put it so well. I am also a product of the state system and it didn't do me no harm. A bright, intelligent, social girl like Matilda will thrive wherever she goes. It's hard not to worry, but she and Owen will both be good and happy :0)

  2. We moved house to get in a better catchment for a state school. It's middle of the road and I'm reasonably happy with it but the school near our old house was unacceptable. The problem is not all state schools are the same and not all kids have the same start in life. It's easy to be all left wing excpet if its your kid that's dealing with it. I've seen what happened to my son in our old area with bullying and honestly I've gone from being completely against private education to seeing it as a viable option. But that's not to say the state school near you won't be fine - just keep an open mind and react if you need to. Email me if you want to chat further, we've had to do a lot of thinking about this in th past three years unfortunately.

  3. I'm not too fussed - especially when it comes to secondary school and even less so when it comes to elementary/primary school.

    Within certain reasonable limits (crackhead schools) I don't think it makes any difference anyways. My only research is anecdotal: I went to public school and became a lawyer. Jen went to private school and is a college teacher. Obviously there is more than one route to career success (if that's what you think the purpose of school is for).

    For me, as long as my kid is safe, is happy, and is learning - everything else is gravy.

    Also, seeing how Matilda is the grand ol' age of ALMOST 3 I think you have a few years ahead of you to figure this out. I don't think her acceptance to La Sorbonne has been jeopardized yet.

    Interesting note: in Quebec, private schools are heavily subsidized so there really is almost no distinction between private and public.


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