Friday, 24 September 2010

Good Mummy or Pushy Mummy?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had some stuff going on that I didn't feel like posting about at the time, well finally as things resolve I'm feeling better about it, so here it goes. The Primary (hah!) reason for my worries were the looming eleven plus exams. We are lucky (or maybe not so lucky - read on) to live in an area where a lot of the Grammar schools have stayed in the State system, so it is theoretically possible to get a top class state education for your bright child, if they achieve the grades in the competitive entry exam for the school of your choice.
Things went horribly wrong for us when we realised that despite the tutoring, the reading the Kumon, Bug was not ready for the 11+ Maths test for the most selective school in the area - she was ready for the Entrance exam to the school that her Primary feeds into, but not for the mega-selective (4:1 applicant:place ratio) one that we thought was the best match for her. This was not a question of ability, but of her having been exposed to the types of questions being asked.
I could go into all the reasons why - but suffice it to say that the feelings of guilt were primarily mine. I questioned all aspects of my life - was being a Working Mum the issue - was it because I chose the tutor that lived nearest so the Au Pair could take her, was it because I was too busy to supervise homework, because I hadn't been around to run her to a better tutor further away, was it because of my insane travel schedule which left me largely excluded from the School Gate conversations, where I might have discovered that he wasn't very good, was it because despite all this I still don't earn enough to send her to a private Prep school?
We were 'lucky' enough to find out in time, and find a different tutor - one who could actually prepare her for the exam, and then followed what have been the most testing, guilt ridden few weeks of my life.
Running Bug backwards and forwards to almost daily Tutor sessions, having her do 11+ tests between times, worrying, worrying worrying, gave the last two weeks before the test a nightmare quality that I never want to repeat.
And this was my problem - is this really the right way to approach education? Bug is bright, Bug is confident, she is a strong soul who knows her own mind, she is literate and verbal and could probably give a Literature undergraduate a run for their money in the length and breadth of her reading list. Most of all she is loved, and hopefully she has successful role models in us to aspire to, she has all the traits to be highly successful wherever she goes to school. But she is barely 10 years old and we have been treating her like an exam machine...
Here is the rub - State Grammars were intended to give all academically bright children an equal chance at a top class education, but the have largely become the preserve of the wealthier middle classes, who actually send their children to Private Prep schools which guarantee entry to the more selective State schools - in the end I was flummoxed by the parents at the gates of the school on the day of the test last week - We could have been queuing at the gates of Benenden from the accents and the clothes and the cars.
I never ever wanted to be a Pushy Mummy - but found I became one in the end - was it the right choice? I don't know - I'll tell you in a couple of weeks when the results come out, or in 7 years when the University question comes up, or in reality in 20 years when she is making her own way in the world. But I know this - I desperately want the best for my child, and for her to have every opportunity, even if I can't afford to fast-track her now.
So what are my conclusions? If you are bright but impecunious family, and you want to go this way, you need to start early, you need to practice for the exams, or get them tutored - the schools tell you not to, but this perpetuates the problem - the wealthy are doing it for sure - because they can afford to, and as long as that is happening your equally bright (if not brighter) child has an even higher hurdle to jump.
So I hope I have been Good Mummy in trying to secure Bug's future for her, for giving her role model of a woman relatively successful in a Man's World, for working hard to give her and her sister a good quality of life, but above all I hope that she doesn't remember me as Pushy Mummy who made her last year in Primary school a misery.....

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