Monday 24 November 1997
Have developed a worrying, new middle-class addiction - poring over school league tables. After I've looked up my own children's schools, I then look up those which my nephews and nieces, friends and second cousins twice removed attend. Particularly liked The Observer's value-added list because it puts our local comprehensive in the top 100. But then my niece's school in Norwich, which was placed in the Independent on Sunday's top 100, and The Times's top 200, does not feature at all in The Observer's 1,000 schools. Am now totally confused, particularly as I know, deep down, that everyone really judges schools by what they see coming out of the gates at half past three.
I'm all for valued-added tables but I do wonder how much difference they will make to deep-seated class assumptions. Yes, we liberal middle classes will be happy to applaud the previously unsung heroes doing a brilliant job in struggling inner city schools. But while we are saying "how fantastic that they are getting those results when they have such a high percentage of children with special needs/free school meals/English as a second language" we'll be fighting to get our own children into the school down the road with fewer poverty indicators.
My general education paranoia has been increased this week by spending too much time with private school parents. For the first time ever, we went to an "At Home". This is a very strange concept - when we're "at home" it usually means we've got our feet up on the sofa in front of the television, with a few empty beer bottles and packets of crisps scattered around the carpet. But when capital letters are involved, At Home seems to mean polite conversation, lots of champagne and devils on horseback. These At Homers were extremely pleasant - not least because they had commissioned my husband to design a radical glass extension to their house, and were still speaking to him at the end of the job - but the children were like an alien species. They would wander in, sit down at the grand piano and play a burst of Mozart - not because they'd been asked to practise, nor to show off, but simply because they wanted to express themselves. It came as naturally to them as farting does to mine. The sense of having raised gormless, inarticulate uncultured little brutes deepened as I chatted to my frighteningly articulate privately educated nine-year-old niece, who was one of the guests and realised that we are probably the commonest people she knows.
Came home determined to make my children practise the piano (surely after three years they should be using both minds?) and to put a stop to their increasing label fascism. The 11-year-old wants everything Adidas for Christmas. No way is he going to wear Clarks' trainers, and Marks & Spencer velcros are just "sad". Unfortunately, he has off-the-scale wide feet, shaped like flippers, which makes shoe-buying particularly troublesome. I had some shoes specially made for him at vast expense - perfectly reasonable, black lace-up desert-boot style. I negotiated a deal with him - trainers to be worn three school days plus weekends and boots twice a week. But this was the chance his long-suffering older brother had been waiting for - he had finally found his Achilles' heel. "You've got problem feet," he whispered evilly as they set off for school, "those are disabled shoes." Adidas-man now point blank refuses to wear what they have christened the "duffer" boots. I am thinking of donating them to the seal house at London Zoo.
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