When child 1 first went to school, my hopes for him were that he’d be clever, popular, academic. Hell, I thought he was a genius. Didn’t we all, about our own children? Here was a child who had memorised the planets at the age of two, who loved nothing in life as much as books, who’d got excited at the sight of a book since way before he could talk. He was fascinated by everything, and his best day out ever was his first trip to the science museum, where he charmed strangers by his awestruck exclamation ‘look Mummy! It’s Sputnik! The real Sputnik!’ I wanted him to love school as I had, to be one of those children to whom learning came easily, and to be happy there. We’d always joked about him being a baby geek, what with his love of books and lego and Star Wars, and I thought he’d find his place at school.
Now, on the eve of his starting at his second school, I want entirely different things for him. I want for him to find that first child again at school – the one who was so overawed by his first sight of the model of Neil Armstrong and the Eagle that he simply stared in silence, the one whose favourite part of our recent holiday in Lanzarote was a trip to the national park to learn about the volanoes, the one who can read a novel in a night with a torch and then come downstairs wanting another one. I want that child – the one who loves learning above all else – to find that school is a place where he can learn and flourish and grow, and not simply a place full of things he cannot do.
It’s been frightening, removing him from his little first school, a tiny environment that has always seemed safe. I trusted them there, not just to look after him, but to see the child he really is, underneath his unwillingness to write and his fear of things he can’t do. And they did. When we sent him there every day, I never doubted that he was well looked after and liked and that he had his own place there. He had teachers and teaching assistants who liked and understood him, a senco that sent me an email when he left that made me cry, and friends who valued him. I thought it would be one of our hardest parenting decisions, but in fact, after we’d visited the new school, it was one of the easiest.
On his visit to his new school, I watched him on the floor, sorting South American countries with another child (later, he told me the exact placements of Cuba and Peru, remembering the size and shape of them) They talked easily, companionably. That made me feel better about the only unhappiness he has expressed about moving to his new school, when he asked if his two best friends could come with him, and cried when I said they couldn’t. I hope there are other lovely little boys who will come to be his friends too. On the floor, with the other little boy, he looked happy. He looked confident. He discussed and sorted and learned. There was no hint of the child that has cried over going to school, who has sobbed in despair that he just isn’t very good at learning, who understands that he just isn’t as good at writing as other children in a system that prizes writing above all else. There was just instead the sweet boy who wants to learn, and who the state system, with its obsession with targets and writing and everything too much, too soon, has let down.
I don’t know if his new school will be the answer to it all. I’m sure there will be issues and difficulties and problems, and that’s OK. There are difficulties and challenges everywhere, and learning to overcome them is one of life’s greatest and most valuable lessons for children. But I hope, with its different way of learning, with its allowing children to learn at their own pace and not one decreed by arbitrary government figures whose focus is on monitoring schools and not supporting them to develop children in the best way possible, and its small, mixed classrooms, it will be somewhere where he can find his love of school and his confidence and joy in learning again.