We have been to visit some schools, and based on the criteria I listed in my previous post we think we have found one which ticked pretty much all of the boxes we had available. Along the way we have encountered a few extremely good school features, and some not so good ones.
I had actually intended on writing this post as part of my previous one, but after I started explaining how the whole thing worked I thought it was getting too long to then add this to the end of it.
I’ll start with one of the worst things that happened, it isn’t to do with the way the school operates but made us question whether we’d be comfortable sending our children there. After being led into the school’s library the initial conversation with the Head Teacher went something like this:
HT: So, are you two a couple then?
Me (thinking): Oh dear, it’s going to go like that is it? We specifically told them we were a same-sex couple when we asked to see the head teacher, as it was one of the things we wanted to ask them about. Do they really have that little experience with gay couples that THIS is the ice breaking question? Does it really matter if we’re a couple anyway? We’re just here to see if the school is appropriate for the children in our care.
Me (talking): Yes.
HT (sounding a little condescending): Oh, how lovely.
I don’t think the HT intended to come across as condescending, we certainly weren’t offended in any way, but it did show a lack of experience dealing with same-sex parents. It also showed a slight lack of communication between the HT and the staff we spoke to on the phone about coming in to see the school. So, not the best of starts at that school.
On the flip side of this issue, one of the other schools addressed this point by telling us about the different types of families that attended the school including multiple same-sex parents, several foster and some adopted children. That showed us they had experience of dealing with families with a similar makeup to ours; ticking a few of our boxes.
One of the schools we visited made a big point of their discipline system, which was in effect a Public Shaming method. This method may well work for some children, but I don’t think it’s a good approach for many kids. Public Shaming can deal huge blows to self-esteem and self-confidence, it can lead to distrust of the practitioner and in circumstances where the the child has a problem with emotional regulation (extremely common with adopted children) can cause a huge spiral of bad behaviour leading to exclusion. That may seem a little extreme just for putting a child who has misbehaved’s name on public display in a classroom, but it happens and as a consequence adopted children often get labelled as trouble makers or uncontrollable, when in fact a simple change in the way discipline is carried out could make all the difference. So, that wasn’t a good point for that school, especially as it was emphasised to us a few times during our tour.
The approach to discipline that another school took was a more inclusive one, and gave the impression that they take on board the child’s circumstances and why they are misbehaving and tried to address that first. Exclusion only being an option of very last resort. We witnessed something of this during our tour. A child who was clearly not interested in being in a lesson had been allowed to sit in the cloak room where he wanted to be, away from others – he wasn’t sent there so it doesn’t count as exclusion. It gave him space to himself which he clearly needed and stopped him disrupting the other children. The reason he wasn’t interested? He was tired. Why was he tired? His Mum had gone into labour during the night and he had a new baby brother, so he hadn’t had much sleep. I think that’s a good enough reason to not be all that interested in being taught, and rather than forcing him, possibly leading to him needing a lot of extra attention, he had been given some special consideration and a bit of space. The Head Teacher of this school had been aware of all this without being told, and asked the boy if he wanted to come round on the tour with us giving him space and supervision away from the classroom without shaming him. If they deal with discipline issues in a similar way then that is precisely what we’d want.
The schools all mentioned OFSTED, (which somehow stands for “Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills”) but in different contexts. None of them gave the impression that they put much weight into the reports generated by OFSTED, but looking at the way the school was operating revealed a slightly different story. One school had been told it needed to improve on one particular thing, and of course during the tour and the meeting with the Head Teacher we were told several times how they were concentrating heavily on improving that particular thing. They did not mention this in relation to the OFSTED report, but it was clear this was the reason it was being done, but at the cost of teaching other things? I’m not sure, but it seemed that way to me.
One of the other schools mentioned OFSTED almost dismissively, saying that the rating they got from them would vary year on year depending on the children that came in. Their catchment area covered quite a large area of our town which has a high level of poverty. Traditionally children from families of low incomes achieve less well at school (the same is true of adopted children due to the disruption they have usually faced in their early years), and a large part of OFSTED’s rating is down to attainment looking at no other factors. The Head of this school said they were more interested in helping the children achieve what they were capable of in what they were capable of doing, not pushing them to achieve academically. Absolutely massive tick in the box from me there.
I could go on all day about this.
The school which we have decided on is the school which I went to as a child. Well… it’s the same building at least, it has changed so much since I was there it was barely recognisable. It is within walking distance of our house and after our tour and meeting with the Head we could not think of a single thing that they did which went against what we wanted from the school.
In the end it was an easy choice.
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