I've got the back-to-school blues


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The Independent Online

I spent my only day off last week school-shopping, checking what else is on offer in our area, just in case our kids are missing out on intensive Mandarin or intermediate origami.

We made a "reservation" and off we went. Unfortunately, I loathed – and still loathe – school, so it's difficult for me to do the right thing and pretend to my kids that school is fun and important. I suffer from David Bowie "Kookyitis", in that I long to tell them to "throw the homework on the fire and take the car downtown … ". However, they are not yet of legal driving age, and it might all get a bit messy, so I just keep schtum and have very little to do with this area of their lives.

I soon found myself in the headmaster's study, trying to think of something intelligent to ask him.

"So … what is the percentage of boarders to day-pupils?" I said, wondering what I would do with this information.

"Do you stream pupils?" I heard myself following up with. I'm not exactly sure what streaming is, but it seems to be something my wife finds very important, so I chucked it in just to beat her to it.

After 30 minutes with the headmaster, and no beating administered (a first in my book), we took a wander around the school. I like to tour a school at the same speed as I do a museum – very fast. I understand that it's useful to see the facilities, but, honestly, one science lab looks very much like another. Also, if my kids choose to do science, then I'll have to disown them – I find sciencey people rather odd and difficult to communicate with.

We watched students making weird shapes out of blocks of wood. This took me straight back to my schooldays, when my sadistic woodwork teacher shouted at me for half an hour, as I desperately tried to find some "elbow grease". I hated him, and frequently dream about bumping into him (often literally, in my car, at high speed). Everything at my school was designed to confuse (they didn't even call it woodwork, it was "Barsonry" – God knows why). Come to think of it, we all used to have to swim naked in the pool every morning … why did we not wear swimming trunks? Probably best to just block the whole thing out and carry on regardless.

I had the same thing with my second school – it was set up to train people to go and work for the East India Company, managing the Raj. There must have been a meeting at some stage after Indian independence, in which someone said, "So, what do we do now?" They just carried on regardless too. Still, I am fully trained to run India should the need arise.

After the woodwork department, two pupils on their best PR behaviour were assigned to complete our tour. Again, I wasn't sure what to ask them. I dreaded appearing to attempt to be "down with the kids", but I wanted to ask things like, "So, bad or moderate drug problem in the school?"

The whole place seemed very pleasant indeed, but I came away with zero idea of whether my kids would thrive or wither there.

"What did you think?" asked my wife as we headed back home.

"School sucks!" I said. I think I've got detention.