…and the living is easy..
(for most kids, unless you’ve got the 11+ coming up.)…
You remember that feeling, right? The long 6 week holiday stretching ahead of you like an endless field of long grass. Ok, so that was my personal picture in my head, probably because I grew up on a housing estate in Welwyn, which had a great field at the top of it, where we spent pretty much most of that 6 weeks. Climbing trees. Making dens. Grossing each other out with tales of puberty, hideous sibling behaviour, and urban myths. The times we weren’t there, we were jumping and wading across the Mimram river on the other side of the village, losing sandals and sandwiches to the current – all a bit health and safety by today’s standards. And skating at break neck speed down the steep hill that we lived in the crook of. Not a helmet in sight. Wheelies on bikes, ‘look no hands’ …I’ll never forget my little sister careering down that hill in hot pursuit on her trike, when she landed head first in next door’s rose bed. That took some explaining to mum, as we fished her out.
So, back to my original point. The six weeks ahead felt delicious. Decadent. Like they would never end, surely? We literally did bugger-all school work. I’d pick up a favourite book yes, and even a paint brush on a rainy day, but school work – never.
Fast forward a (ahem) number of years and I look through the lens of my own kids’ summer. If you’ve read any of my blog before, you’ll know I’m in strong favour of letting kids be kids. My other half and I have toyed with a gap year as a family, but we’ve had to park that idea due to financial constraints and the reality of work to return to. But I truly yearn for proper, enriching, memory building (and arguably adult-building) childhoods for my children.
Fast forward to summer 2017, and here we are at a cross roads for our boy. We live in a part of the UK where the grammar system still exists. Apparently tutor-proof, what’s known at the Kent Test is essentially the 11+ but isn’t part of the private education system of entrance exams. This is all we’ve got. This is our mainstream education. Your kid, at the age of 10 is deemed best suited to Grammar or High School. Only, the test doesn’t align with the national curriculum, so much of the content hasn’t yet been actually taught yet, until about the second term of the next academic year. KAT clubs, tutors, past papers, Bond Online Tests – they’re the plethora of tools to choose from and available to us parents (*who can afford it) hoping to give our kids the best chance if we think that a grammar would suit them. Social leveller the grammar system ‘aint. The schools are categorically not allowed to teach to it. So those without the means, need to rely on being super-bright and perhaps actually a bit gifted, in reality.
But here we are, in it. This is where we live, and like it or lump it, we feel we need to give our boy the best possible chance. He knows which school he wants to go to. Has his heart set on it. And so here is our eldest’s summer – will it stretch out in an endless dream like way? Or is the reality that he’ll have to keep his brain in gear with practice papers and bursts of Bonds Online?
It sucks. If his strengths lay in art or other creative subjects, I think we’d be persuading him to ditch it and focus on other schools. But the reality is that a grammar will probably stretch him in the right way, and potentially suit him well. But to get there, he’s got the big hurdle. It’s the ever present elephant in our house right now.
So to those in favour of the expansion of grammars, be careful what you wish for. Seeing a bunch of ten year olds come to terms with whether they passed or failed the dreaded test every autumn is so sad to witness in the playground, and whilst we the adults know it’s not life defining and this too shall pass, to them in the here and now, it feels like the end of the world. At 10.
I appreciate that this post falls very heavily into the category of first world problems. But I do wish our kids could have the same childhoods that we were lucky enough to have. And if I make my kids one promise, it’s that after this one (and next for the girl child) – their summers will absolutely be their own. For climbing trees and scraping knees…and then for all the other rites of passage as they grow and spread their wings.
Right now? We’re off to the beach. He’s at least starting his summer with some carefree time of his own. Those practice papers can wait.
….Pass the factor 50, someone.