Wednesday, 12 October 2011

English Education - Part 1

I just come back from the shops and yet another chat with a desperate mother trying to stay on top of London schooling. I know how she feels. Pre Prep was relatively easy, now we that we are entering the next stage I need to learn a whole new set of words or better abbreviations that refer to tests and more tests.

I have the distinct feeling that the educational system here is ignoring childhood in general and the different pace in development quite a bit. Recently the government has implemented a kind of toddler testing in nursery, swamping kindergartens with even more paperwork ....  But then, the whole educational system has quite a few exams and tests on offer:

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Going the private road, kids have to sit assessments for various independent schools, lasting from 1 to up to 3 days (when they are 6/7 and at any age depending when they want or need to move). Under the National Curriculum all pupils will be tested in Literacy, Numeracy and Science around the age of 10/11, called Sats or ITC (the government is reviewing this approach at the moment). Then there is the 11+ exam, taken by students in their last year of primary education as a type of admission for different secondary schools, mainly in the private sector and some Grammar schools.
GCSE tests are taken at the age of 14/15. The government had introduced another round of tests for the 11/12 year olds, which they abandoned recently due to problems with the marking procedure (but I am quite sure they are already thinking of something else, or maybe the next government ...).
During the last two years of school, if you decide to stay on after the GCSE, the kids can now choose between A levels, IB, Cambridge Pre-U or a mixture of it all, depending on the private school (I had a few interesting chats about this with some heads recently). All these may or may not lead to University (again, who will except what is not always clear).

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This can all be very confusing and quite stressful for kids (and parents). London especially is a hothouse when it comes to education and schools. A lot of parents pay for extra tuitions for their kids on top of an already quite intense school timetable.

Of course and apart from all this, there is the question of which school to choose, which road to go: Private or State, Boarding, Grammar or Church or (very new) Free Schools - oh, and: co-ed or single sex schools.

Sometimes I think we need a degree in education to muddle through! I am not sure I got it all right yet, but as you can tell, I am learning.

And there I thought years ago I will go and choose the school with the nicest uniform! (but was immediately told, still breastfeeding, to get the kids on several school waiting lists, pronto).

On the plus side, a lot of schools are trying very hard to find a balance between demands made by the government, parents and the needs of the children. The challenge is to find the right school for your kid (and your purse!).

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Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I understand.

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