Why I’m (still) sending my child to a school in special measures

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A couple of years ago, I blogged about our reasons for sending our son, then 4, to a school which had been put in special measures. Two weeks ago, our daughter started at the same school, and I wanted to share with you why, two years on, we have no regrets about this decision.

For a start, Mister (6) has had nothing but positive experiences at the school. Academically, he is making good progress. Pastorally, he is being well looked-after. Socially, he has a wide and varied group of friends. I love the way the older kids look out for the younger ones too – older boys call ‘hello’ to my son in the street, they know his name, they’re not embarrassed to be seen with a younger boy. I’m sure this is not unique to our school, but it’s something I don’t take for granted, knowing that this wasn’t the case a few years ago, when poor leadership, little/no lunchtime activities and equipment, and a very weak behaviour strategy meant that, unfortunately, bullying was rife.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Mister has enjoyed his two years at school – why would there be any reason to suggest that Missy wouldn’t love it just as much?

Secondly, I’ve met some really wonderful families through the school – some are similar to me, some are very different. I won’t lie and say I have a close-knit group of besties – nor that I’m ever expecting to – but this is OK. I have several close friends outside the school, and I’m totally fine with that. Those I’ve met through the school are still great, still people who I would consider ‘friends’ and enjoy a playground chat with. My experience has been broadened, and I’ve learned so much through getting to know such a wide range of people.

I love the honesty and the lack of face-saving amongst my school community. As an example, here’s a conversation I had with another mum within a few weeks of joining the school. I embellish a lot on this blog but, believe me, I haven’t altered this.

“Hiya Lucy, you alright?”

“Yeah, good thanks – and you?”

“Not so good – I lost a baby last week at 6 months gestation.”

Gulp. This mum wasn’t sweeping her problem under the carpet – and she certainly felt the pain of this awful event as much as any mum I’ve known – she just didn’t see the point in not being honest. In reflecting on this, I realise that in my middle-class upbringing, life has always been about putting across my best side – whether on a UCAS form, in a job interview, or doing that all-important ‘networking’ in my profession. It means that I’m excellent at small-talk, at appearing interested in people when I’m not, at hiding those aspects of my life which I’m not proud of. Perhaps those who haven’t been through this system feel less need to present themselves any differently to how they are. It’s certainly taught me a lot about the value of being honest and open with others.

Thirdly, I never cease to be amazed by the professionalism and vision of the staff. As a governor, I get to see and hear about all sorts of initiatives throughout the school. The teaching is excellent – really excellent – but I love how the staff never seem to settle for any less than the best, as far as the kids are concerned. With many children coming from low-income backgrounds, the school is thinking outside the box in terms of raising their aspirations, giving them hope and opportunity for the future.

For example, a child who is not reaching Age Related Expectations (ARE) at the age of 4 is unlikely to achieve well at GCSE. (And by ARE, I don’t mean whether he can read or write, I mean whether he can have a conversation, sit and listen, share and take turns, and so on.) So a year ago, knowing that the key to future success lies in early intervention, our school opened its new 2-year-old nursery provision, aiming to give high-quality early education to those children whose parents were eligible for funding. Within weeks of its opening, staff and parents were seeing incredible leaps forward in their children’s development.

I could tell you about the innovative strategies being used to combat (and prevent) poor behaviour in the school. I could tell you about the cultural pledge that the school has devised, ensuring that all children access the museums and galleries in our historic city. I could talk about the support that the school gives to parents – the free courses and qualifications offered, the hand-outs of clothes and baby equipment when needed, the interest shown in their lives. I could – but I’m over my wordcount. Do you get it? This school is forward-thinking. It persists in trying to make life better for those on the edge, and I’m so proud to be part of it.

For those of you looking round schools this Autumn, perhaps for the first time, please don’t judge by what you see outside the school gate, what people say about the families who go there, or anything else – other than the school itself. Take the time to look round, listen, ask questions, get a feel for the quality of the teaching.

I’m glad we did this two years ago, or else we might have missed a gem. My son has been so happy at this school – and if I now have to lose my daughter for 30 hours a week too, I can think of no better place for her to be.

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  1. If I was going to swap lives with someone, it would be one of your kids! They’re having so much fun thanks to their open-minded and switched-on parents’ choice of school for them. In fact, I regularly stand in the playground of our oversubscribed middle-class school and wax lyrical to other parents about the enrichment activities, smaller class sizes and engaging approaches to the curriculum which your children and their peers are enjoying. I should add that socially we’re all incredibly happy at this school, a very wide range of families are represented even if it is middle-class-heavy, it’s our local school (next door to our house in fact), it’s well-led and the teachers are positively saintly. But, perhaps those who are in the process of choosing a school for their children would do well to heed your advice about outward appearances. It will probably be the case that the school that has the most need, will be the school that is most innovative and forward-thinking, with much opportunity on offer for your child(ten).

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