Entrance exams: the real question is, will the parents pass?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
PRIVATE schools are sinking really low in their bids to attract league-enhancing children. One of my nephews has just been doing the rounds and is in no doubt about which school he wants to go to - the one that offered unlimited Club biscuits between exams, and fish and chips for lunch. The head even wrote personally to each candidate a couple of days before the exam, wishing them luck.

Coincidentally, this is not a school at the top of the leagues tables. At the most highly selective establishments they are lucky to be offered a Rich Tea biscuit and a cup of water. And then it's not just the children who have to perform well - the parents are interviewed too. My sister said her husband had come home triumphantly from one school declaring he'd definitely got in: he'd hit it off very well with the deputy head teacher and felt his pin-striped suit had done him proud.

Gestapo techniques are commonplace. The children and parents are interviewed separately to make sure their stories corroborate - a friend of my sister's, when asked which school she favoured by the head of one, replied in a no-nonsense kind of way, "whichever one gives us a scholarship", citing her four children as evidence of financial hardship. It was unfortunate, then, that when her daughter was interviewed she enthused about her passion for sailing, holidays in "their" house in Ireland and weekends in the country. There was a large element of childish exaggeration about this, so the poor mother was mortified when the head came out and smirked, "well, you don't seem to have any difficulty in maintaining your daughter's hobbies ..."

Around here, taking four or five entrance exams seems to be the norm. Naively, complacently or just plain lazily, we'd only entered our son for one but I enjoyed it so much - particularly the bit at the school gates where all the state school parents spit at the children in prep school blazers - that I wished he was doing half a dozen. It was easy to spot others on the bus heading in the same direction: the children had pinched white faces and the parents were desperately trying to make smalltalk when it was clear that they really just wanted to quickfire times tables at them. Not me of course. "Just imagine," I trilled inconsequentially to my son, "the minister for school standards thought seven times eight was 54. You know better than that, don't you? Don't you? Go on then, what is it? You can have a Playstation if you get it right ..."

So housework is sexually stimulating, according to research done in Paris - home of the French Maid. This might be just the impetus I need to have a go at it. But let's face it, it's not all glamorous Hoovering and ironing is it? There's cleaning the lavatory too. We have a very fair division of labour in our household - I do the cooking, get up at night to the children and my husband deals with unpleasant things in the lavatory. But last week, when he was away, one of the children did what I believe is known in the trade as a "lurker". No matter how many times were flushed it, the damn thing kept poking its head round the U-bend. There had to be a more humane way of dealing with it than my husband's macho technique involving a wire coat hanger but among the professional housewives of my acquaintance none could enlighten me. So it was that four days into the siege, I rudely interrupted a rather grand friend who was giving me the lowdown on Prince Charles, his Mandelsonian spin doctor and Perspectives, the beleaguered architectural magazine, and asked how she dealt with lurkers. Changing tack effortlessly, she briskly recommended soda crystals and modestly brushed off my attempts to label her Renaissance woman - pointing out that it was I who passed on the tip about adding urine to the blanket wash, an old country practice. Sexy or what?

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