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Saturday, 18 November 2006

School Selection

On Friday last, our family commenced the stressful ordeal that is necessary in order to secure a place at one of the excellent local private girl’s schools. Freya is currently in her second year at a Dulwich nursery, and as they do not accommodate little girls past nursery, she must now go through the selection process again for girls prep schools. We don't select the private school we wish to send Freya to, they will select us - or not.

We were advised at a recent open morning at the nursery, that ‘The Gel’s’ should each apply for at least four schools in order to be sure of a place. This process is not simple, you do not simply fill in a form, and send off a fee to register – no, parents are interviewed, and then the tiny three and a half year old girls are interviewed - twice, by each school. Forgive me, it seems barbaric. I am stressed out for Freya. What can they hope to achieve in assessing our little baby girl - twice? She will have 8 interviews with strangers by the time we are finished!

It seems we were lucky to have secured places at this nursery for both of our little ones. We never registered for any other schools. We went along for a ‘selection morning play session’ with the kids and had a look around. They were subsequently both offered places by post. Since then, we found out that this nursery sees hundreds of children during their selection/interview process – but we had not know this, and so we were relaxed about it, and all went well. I was wondering why all of the other parents on the selection morning were so pale and highly strung. Their children were hysterical and demanding gifts in the manner of Veruca Salt from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'. Ignorance is bliss! I had assumed the word ‘selection’ was just a formality.

Freya on any given day will chat sensibly, sing and dance, recite poems, read her letters and numbers – all the stuff a normal three and a half year old can do. On the same day however, she can also be expected to cling to me, screech and scream, lie on the floor, have a tantrum and be completely unreasonable – all the stuff a normal three and a half year old can do.

This selection process seems insane. Why can’t they simply assess a childs abilities with a reference from their nursery school? As parents, we are happy to go for any interview, but what are they hoping to achieve by ‘interviewing’ a lot of three and a half year olds? Several of the 'preferred' schools ‘interview’ something like 150 baby girls for 8 places this year!

Two weeks ago, we came up with a cunning plan. James and I decided to move into the ‘catchment’ for the Village Infants School (an excellent local state school in Dulwich Village) and forget these assessments altogether for the time being. Prep School at seven for Freya, we decided, she cannot be expected to compete at this age. Shirley Temple she is not. The odds are stacked against us, and we will not allow her to experience any sense of failure so young.

We instructed an excitable Estate Agent and without so much as a photograph taken, or a 'for sale' sign in the garden, we accepted an offer on our house at the asking price within twelve hours from a woman who wept in our kitchen with joy. We could not believe how smoothly our plan was going, hurrah! Then we noticed one small problem…, there is nothing at all for sale in London at the moment (hence the weeping buyer – it was relief not joy). Worse still, every other parent south of the river has the same plan as us, and wishes to move into the catchment area of the Dulwich Village Infants School! Gazumping apparently is rife.

On Friday last, James and I embarked on the first of our interviews to one of our 'chosen' prep schools. We sat closely together, pale, holding hands and perspiring profusely on an enormous well worn terracotta sofa in the hall, wincing as we listened to notes being hammered out on a piano as a group of children belted out ‘Adeste Fidelis’ in a nearby classroom. Eventually, a well upholstered lady with big hair, a superior attitude and trollop’s nail polish welcomed us into draughty study. James and I ‘talked up’ our baby for all she was worth, and waxed theatrically about her talents and aspirations (Ha! she wants to work in Tesco), while struggling with the almost overpowering smell of Harmony hairspray. Oh dear. Finally, we were told our time was up and our sales pitch over, we packed up our 'Power Point' and handouts (not seriously), and made our way out into the hall, where we were greeted by the sight of another two equally anxious parents competing for a place. This is a disaster in slow motion. Perhaps if we took Prozac, we would not be so bloomin stressed and needy. I am sure these schools can sense our desperation.

Freya will pick up how stressed we are, and no amount of bribery will succeed in making her perform. She has already decided that she would like 'a life size singing Fimbo with his own Shimmy shaker' (they do not make such a toy) in order to even go to the ‘playdates’ we have described to her at these lovely schools. I wonder if we can have one specially made?

If someone on Turney Road could please just slap a for sale sign in their garden, I could nip around in the morning with a cheque?

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