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High School Choice - It's Not Actually About You

By Catherine Sim - 23rd March 2011

Many of you would have recently had the completely terrifying first day at school experience, and I'm not necessarily talking about those cute little things in their oversize uniforms, skipping off without a backward glance. No, first days at school are way more terrifying for parents.

The morning my eldest daughter started Kindergarten, I changed my clothes at least five times, almost making her late in the process. “Too wacky” I muttered, throwing the 70s maxi on the floor. “ Arrrgh! Too conservative” as I discarded the simple skirt and blouse (Blouse. Who uses that word!?)

I ended up going for a combination that looked as though it had been chucked together in the dark by a child in a temper, hence my reputation at school for being a bit unusual.

So after many months of open days, school visits and those awful, never ending discussions with other parents in playgrounds, we'd finally decided on one of the three local schools she was eligible to attend. (No fake addresses for us.)

Looking back, I think she, and the rest of her siblings, would have been just fine at any of those schools, and all the hours in the middle of the night spent agonising could have been much better spent sleeping.

The really big decisions came with high school. My daughter was a no brainer. We sent her to a Catholic girls' school because we wanted her to be a nun. No we’re not Catholic.

The tricky one was the first boy. We'd heard that boys do better in co-ed schools and after lots more open days, more never ending discussions with other parents ( in pubs now ... I don’t get to playgrounds much), we sent him off in his too big uniform looking heartbreakingly brave and vulnerable.

I joined the P and C with lots of other keen parents who all looked a bit unusual too and tried to ignore the little voice that was trying to tell me something important.
Over the course of the year, as I watched my optimistic, funny boy turn into a sullen cranky teenager I told myself, and everyone else, that it was a typical twelve year old boy thing.

At the parent teacher night when the teachers (who could remember who he was) expressed concerns at his deteriorating behaviour and schoolwork, I finally listened to that little voice which by now was a shout.

With his cooperation we moved schools towards the end of last year and now we have our boy back. Admittedly he's still sullen and cranky and thinks the rest of the family are at best idiots and at worst, raving lunatics, but he has his spark and his sense of humour back.

I now realise that we may have chosen his first high school more for our own needs than his. I looked at the tribe and thought I'd fit in. I let my ideologies and aspirations (or lack thereof), cloud my judgement . And most of all, I overestimated his ability to cope in a environment that was not structured enough for his needs.

So when you are trawling through the My School website late at night when you should be sleeping, remember that a school might tick all your boxes, but it might not tick all of your childs’.

Editor's Note: if you are choosing a high school I highly recommend you read The Best School for Your Child . There is an interview with the author Erin Shale here.

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