I’m Losing Sleep Over What School to Send My Son to

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Lately I haven’t been sleeping too well.

I could blame it on the warmer nights and the fact that my husband is like a furnace sleeping next to me, but in fact it has to do with one small thing: high school.

My son just turned 9, so why am I am fretting about high school already? He won’t set foot in one for years. But you see, the problem begins way earlier than that here in the UK.

We live in a leafy village in Hertfordshire, a 40-minute train ride away from central London. Here, you go to primary school (the equivalent of U.S. public elementary school) until you are 11 years old and then attend the local senior school (equivalent to a U.S. public high school), a mere walk away from our house. The latest reports on the school say that it’s improving, and more and more parents are electing to send their kids there.

However, there’s another option.

We live next to the county of Buckinghamshire, where children can do a “transfer” test when they are in the last year of primary school. If they pass it, they get to go to a grammar school, which are known to have much better educational programs. The nearest one has a recent Ofsted report (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) that declares it “outstanding” (the highest mark a school can get). To pass this transfer test, my son will need to be tutored for an entire year at the cost of $250 a month, and then he has to actually pass it.

The thing is, my son is average at literacy, but above that in math. He is a bit of a dreamer. His sweet, laid-back nature means he’s popular and fun-loving, but he isn’t the most focused student. He excels at sports — probably the only time he is fully engaged. He’s a film junkie and enjoys reading, but he’s no bookworm.

I have no idea what to do. The other alternative is a private school, which costs £16,000 a year ($25,000). There, my son will hang out with kids who own ski chalets and 15 ponies and the like, and I don’t ever want him to come home and ask, “Why don’t we have that?’

But really, I think my own educational past is getting in the way.

You see, I grew up in Northern Ireland where everyone does the transfer test. The kids who pass go to grammar schools and those who fail go to secondary schools. I was fortunate to go to an amazing grammar school that I loved beyond words. I made the best friends of my life there and in all truth, wish I could send my son there.

At the heart of this quandary, I have to ask myself: “Am I pushing my son to have the schooling I had? And is that for him or me? Am I sending him to a grammar school just because I went to one, when in fact he is a very different child to the one I was? Are my ambitions his? Am I in danger of becoming an awful tiger mother?”

If he took this dreaded 11+ transfer test, I think I would be pushing him slightly out of his comfort zone. But at the same time, I think he likes a challenge. Then I worry that if he is tutored and passes, what if he gets into a great grammar school only to languish at the bottom and lose all his confidence? Isn’t it better to be at the top end of one school than the bottom end of the other?

Part of me believes kids thrive out of their own accord and will only rebel if parents push them. I had friends who weren’t the cleverest kids academically, but they studied hard and now are the most successful people I know. But that drive had to come from within them – it isn’t something you can make a kid have. You have to love what you do. I’m forever telling my kids that money doesn’t make you happy, you have to do what makes your heart sing or it’s a waste of your precious time.

All of this school talk is a problem that makes my stomach churn. If he doesn’t do the test, will I always regret it and wonder, “What if?” Most of all I wonder where I draw the line: Do I let him do the test if he wants to, or should he do it because I want him to? He’s only 9 and I’m making all of these life-changing decisions for him. I know as a parent I make loads of decisions all the time surrounding what he does daily, but this feels like the greatest responsibility of all.

I’m hoping some of you moms out there feel the same and equally worry about your kids’ education. So what would you do — would you make him take the test?

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