Sunday, 17 August 2008

School's Out For Summer

I can’t remember when my Dad first mentioned the possibility of sending my son to RHS. It’s always been there as an acceptable option since he was born, seeing that the majority of men on my dad’s side went. I don’t think I seriously considered it until the spring term of J’s year six, by which time it would be too late for him to begin at RHS in year seven.

I have two reasons for going down the boarding school route. One I can be completely open about, the other I generally keep closer to my chest.

The first is that he’s a bright kid, but very lazy. All he has learnt from his first year in a state secondary school is that he can do almost no work and yet somehow still come in the top three for all his subjects. As he’s the youngest in the school, that’s quite impressive, but it can’t continue for ever. The habit of not working, not listening and not thinking will take root and leave him without the options he’s capable of getting for himself, with just a little work. Instead, he will be stopping at the park on the way home from school with his friends, and as I’m not so very much older than him, I know what that led to for me, and worry that it will be worse for him.

Life is hard for teenagers to make sense of.

The second is me. Again, this is twofold but centres fundamentally on the inevitable fact that he was born whilst I was an unmarried teenager. Although in many ways I was an atypical teenage mother, I have a major fear that it will end up a self fulfilling prophecy if he remains at the state school, around such a wide cross section that is only manageable if staff employ some level of stereotyping. I also know just how judgemental and unkind secondary school teachers can be when there is a stereotypical scapegoat in sight.

The other aspect of that is that I feel that often I am a dreadful mother. I’m snappy and bossy and mean and I know that I take my lovely little (big!) boy for granted. I can’t help feeling it’s better for him to be away from me and around people who will treat him fairly and kindly instead of be constantly short tempered and unreasonable with him.

The entry relied on three aspects all coming together: the bursary, the exam and the interview.

The bursary application came first. As the number of bursaries given to students and prospective students had been cut from two hundred a year to twenty five a year, I didn’t know what his chances were. The reply came back that, if he was given a bursary, it would be for all but four hundred pounds a year. At nearly seven thousand pounds a term, this is one of the biggest bursaries available.

His interview with the deputy head went well. At least, he seemed to come out of it successfully, and he gained the top mark on his entrance exam. That led to a further exam and interview for an academic scholarship.

He did well in those, too, but was awarded the position of Honorary Scholar. This is because recipients of bursaries cannot also claim scholarships.

I went ahead and accepted the place knowing that J was not wild about leaving his friends at the state school. Year seven has been dominated by him trying to persuade me not to send him to RHS. Yet, it is a magnificent school and I am confident that he will settle and that it will be right for him in the long term and he’ll still have friends round every corner when he comes home.

After months of nagging, his leaving party was a few days after the end of term. It consisted of nearly thirty kids in our back garden playing chart music very loud, being high as kites on fizzy drinks, playing obscure and noisy games and generally having a good time. It was over within three hours and the cleaning up left to do the next morning was mainly plastic cups, paper plates and party poppers. With parties for twelve year olds, there’s none of the next-day biohazard sites that begin to arise with older teenage parties along with empties of White Lightning.

And suddenly, it’s just weeks away. Soon he’ll be gone. I have yet to buy a number of things on the list and concluded that there are many that I won’t buy new, he can just take from home. The biggest task left, aside from actually taking him, is sewing on the name tapes. Everything has to be named and I’m going to have to invite friends round for a name tape sewing circle just to get it done in time.

Then he’ll be gone, and the house will seem empty and quiet. I will be lonely.

I’m already looking forward to half term.

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