`It was a risk, but we've never looked back'

IN THE MIDDLE of last term Emma van Laun, a nanny, and her husband Jonathan Lemonsky, an environmental scientist, decided to take their daughter Dylan, aged five, out of her school, a Jewish state primary in north London where she had just started her fifth term.

"Dylan never refused to go to school or made a fuss," said Emma. "On the few occasions when she said she didn't want to go I just told her `you have to because it's the law'. I felt that if I pandered to her we would end up with all sorts of trouble.

"It took us four horrible terms to work out that the school just did not suit her. It must have been in my subconscious all the time but I didn't want to think about it. When you believe that you have found a good school with a good reputation and good results you feel determined that it should work out. In hindsight, there were enormous signs that things were not right, but I'd just had our second child, Rowan, and I kept thinking that Dylan's problems were all part of that.

"Dylan had lots of tantrums and became quite withdrawn. She had a love- hate thing with a girl in her class and she would tell stories about things that that girl had done to her. Some of them turned out to be true but others were obviously rubbish.

"I tried to make things better for her. At first I thought maybe Dylan wasn't ready to go through a whole day in class, so I started picking her up after lunch. Then, because I thought she had no confidence as part of a large group, I took her to a drama class. She loved it and had no problem with me leaving her. So being in a group obviously was not the problem.

"The warning bells really started to ring when I noticed that she didn't have any concentration. Her teachers said: `Dylan's away with the fairies' - and yet she had always been a very focused child. Then when we went on a holiday at Easter and we saw her playing happily with other children. That made us suddenly realise that we had not seen that side of Dylan for a long time. That's when we finally recognised that it was the school that was the problem. And so, we decided to take her out.

"I looked at a couple of local primaries but I knew that they would be no better than the one that she had been in and, possibly, even worse. Then the idea of a Steiner school popped into my head and I decided to follow it through, simply because it was so different. We were lucky to be offered a place almost immediately.

"For a few weeks before we moved her we told Dylan we were looking for a way to make her happier at school. I didn't want to worry her by talking about a new school because I thought her reaction would be `oh no, that will be worse'. In fact, when I said we had been invited to a picnic at the Steiner school she immediately said: `Mummy I want to go there'.

"It must have been hard for Dylan to start all over again, especially because it was so close to the end of the school year, when all the relationships are quite set.

"But I thought it was good that Dylan would not have to wait on tenterhooks until September worrying about this new thing. In fact, she settled there within a few weeks. The teachers had assessed her carefully before she started and they placed her in a class with the same teacher that she would be getting this year. The old school was lovely about it all too - they said if it doesn't work out they would still have a place for her.

"It was such a huge decision to take her out of school - If I actually stopped to think it, the whole thing could have become very scary. Of course, I worried that the change would be counter-productive, because even if the relationships she had built up were not that great, at least they were built and the building of relationships can be so difficult.

"There were doubts, of course. A lot of people had asked `what if it's just Dylan, what if she just doesn't like school?' Naturally, I was worried that she might have deeper problems. But what was the alternative? To say you've just got to get on with it and be deeply unhappy? I felt we had to at least try something different.

"Apart from those first few days of worrying whether Dylan would be OK or not, we have never looked back and have had no regrets. Some people laugh about Steiner schools and the freedom they offer but all I know is that we now have a child who is happy to go off to school every morning. That's worth everything to me."

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