I’m buyin’! (Only virtually, of course.)

Jess (DsSis) is 11. Time to find that all-important high school.

Default local comprehensive is much better than it was, but given that it was in Special Measures with a big drug problem and Headteachers rarely lasting more than a year a few years ago, that’s not saying much. Big-name city grammar school was WAY too expensive (annual fees exceeding current DsD annual income). Local grammar school has a privacy-invading financial-help policy bordering on theft, so all of those were off the “by happy choice” list. She’s not a girl (and we’re not parents) who would survive the boarding school culture for somewhere far away. And we ain’t Catholic or Muslim. So we were left with three possibles. One was blown out by being about to be merged and rebuilt, on which unknown results I’m not prepared to gamble my daughter. Of the other two, Jess absolutely HATED one after a visit. So we were left looking at one basket only for our most precious egg.

To be fair, that one basket’s a belter. Free of charge grammar, OFSTED Outstanding rated, loved by its pupils, and achieving top twenty exam results in the entire country. Less than two miles from our door, still got HUGE playing fields, just started building a £1million language block extension, Specialist Science status, massive extracurricular programme. And Jess loved it on the Open Day. Really couldn’t be better.
The catch? 1500 of the brightest Yorkshire kids a year apply for 150 places, via an old-fashioned 11-plus, all-on-the-day entrance exam. Jess did the exam a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve all been on [very tetchy] tenterhooks ever since.

The results letter came today. Now, this can’t, by law, be an offer. Every kid’s parents fill out the preference form for a 5-school choice in October, and we don’t find out where they’ve been allocated until March. But if Jess could come into the top 150 in the exam, she’d be just about certain of a place. Given that the exam is a shared one with the school she hated (also a 150 entry), any result in the top 300 would get her a grammar place, but with a 50/50 chance it could be the “wrong” school. From 300 to about 370, the schools advise you put them as 1st/2nd choice on the form, as there are inevitably some drop-outs. In the 400s or lower, fuggeddabouddit. Buy the polyester uniform for the comp and cross your fingers.

So, what happened? Two minutes after the postie arrived, DsMam rang me at work … she was snuffling and admitted she’d just had a little cry. Ohshitohshitohshitohshit . . .

Jess came THIRTY-SIXTH out of fifteen hundred.

THAT’S mah girl!!!

Chuffed and relieved doesn’t even BEGIN to cover it.

I don’t know about her (well, I DO actually; she’s two floors above me fast asleep), but I’m buzzing far too much to sleep, and I’ve had far too big a celebratory glass of Myers to be sensible for what time I have to be back in the car in the morning. But what the hell. If I can’t be proud of her now, when can I be?

[Er, next month when she plays at the Royal Albert Hall, maybe? – Ed.]

Oh, yeah, temporarily forgot about that. Jess is playing the finale at the Children’s Concert at the RAH as part of the (very large) Bradford Junior Ensemble in November. Busy busy busy …..


  1. Great news, you are entirely right to be incredibly proud!

    I never knew the whole secondary schools thing could be such a hassle! We haven’t got there with the mini McFlahs yet – another 4 years for the eldest then he’s off to the comp in St Andrews, there’s no options or choices here really.

    • You may also be saved the nightmare which is the English CAF then. A more user-unfriendly, unwieldy online application form I can’t remember. But it’s done now; we’ve formally taken Jess’ test result and applied for the school. Only another four-and-a-half months to wait for a reply!

  2. That’s excellent news – I think in honour of the occasion the least you could do would be to rename yourself Jess’Dad!

  3. Excellent; a great relief to you all. We skipped this nightmare by living apart for the first five years of marriage so the StepAbahachis could finish the bulk of their secondary education in the excellent Welsh system – where the choice is not so much between competitive grammar school and dodgy comp as between high-powered comp where most of the classes are in Welsh and lower-powered-but-still-very-good comp where it’s mostly in English.

    • Yes, of course, we had this discussion last month, didn’t we? From what I can gather, we’re actually not badly off for a choice of decent secondary schools within a reasonable travelling distance, but it just seemed to us that nearly all of those we looked at had MAJOR faults big enough for us or Jess to completely dismiss them from consideration. Maybe it was us being overly picky, but I don’t think so.

  4. Thank you all. So a shame Jess had to take the edge off it by having us called into school office after she reacted to some name-calling from a boy in her year by drawing blood … his … a face wound!

    • Well done Jess – for the school

      bullying and name calling is such a difficult thing to overcome – especially when children have older siblings/parents who use those techniques/words on their younger siblings/children … who then they do the same at school not realising or relishing the belittling effect it has.

      our boy has developed a coping idea where the words are just coming out of a red bottom monkey’s mouth – he then laughs inside his head at this image – so the name callers don’t get any reaction.

      obviously the government has taken a view on violence and thinks there’s leeway in ‘disproportionate force’ in certain situations – it’s always been hard teaching the difference between right and wrong and judging how close to the line you stand. Good luck in all that. Dread to think how I’m going to cope.

      congrats again Jess on the exam result and good luck at the concert.

  5. I hope she’ll be happy there. Ubuette transferred to a Grammar this September and has never been happier at school.
    The whole atmosphere of the place is far more to her liking and being one of the smart kids is seen as a good thing and not something to be played down.

    • Congratulations to Jess!
      It’s funny how the UK and US terminology for schooling mean completely different or opposite things. (Public and Private School, f’rinstance.)

      “Grammar School” is rarely used in the States but usually refers to a comprehensive elementary school for 5-11 year olds: where you learn your basic grammar – i before e except after c and all that.

      And then in Germany “Gymnasium” refers to an advanced academic secondary school – not a place to work out or play basketball.

      Here’s an article about the ongoing disaster that is the local public (that is, government funded) school system, that even with sparkling new buildings built in the 2000s everybody who can is trying to get out of. What’s worth noting is that this article is from the city’s alternative – decidedly more liberal metropolitan – weekly.

      • Jeez, SHA, and I thought we had problems! That article is one of the most disheartening things I’ve read in a long time.

        But on a much less important and more pedantic point, I’ve long thought that the US-way-round definitions of ‘public’ school etc. were much more correct than ours.

      • They’re called public schools here because they were the first schools open to laymen. Previously all schools were part of the monastic system and entailed entering the priesthood or becoming a monk.

    • I’m glad to hear it for you and her, pairubu. And yes, that’s exactly the culture we hope and believe we’re going to find at NHGS.

  6. Congratulations DsD and family.

    However, I am utterly astonished by all this. it seems so far away from my school years in England. I don’t understand this scramble for school places and the obvious pressure it heaps on families. The whole school system seems utterly fucked when I read about it from abroad.

    It’s one of the reasons why I live here. In fact, Ms Fuel is clear that our kids will never go to school in Britain. [Long rant edited]

    Re: Bullying.

    I’ve mentioned the KiVa anti-bullying programme over on the main blog. It works. ( I’ve witnessed kids defend a kid who was being bullied, it was obviously a learnt thing, but it worked. Once upon a time they would’ve stood by and watched.) It won’t work without the school getting involved, but if you do get the school involved it will change attitudes towards bullying. My kid just turned seven and began school this autumn. Guess what? One of the first things they are taught and begin is the anti-bullying programme.

    Here’s Christina Salmivalli discussing bullying and why it occurs and what can be done to prevent it. Bear with it. It gets very interesting after six minutes or so.

    Sorry, will have to go offline for a while now.

    • Thanks, Fuel.
      We’re away for the weekend ourselves from tomorrow morning, but if I get any time I’ll borrow Granny’s broadband and catch up with this video.

      Re bullying and DsSis specifically: it’s not really a debate I want to get into publicly, but I do harbour some fears that my eldest can be what I would call an “accidental bully”. She’s bigger than anyone else in the year (head & shoulders above many of them); has a quick brain (+ve) and a cutting tongue (-ve); and can unleash her inner Kevin-the-teenager at almost no notice. But she’s no guile, and no desire to go looking for trouble. If she gets into a barney, she won’t have seen it coming, but will defeat all-comers, and will undoubtedly get caught for doing it. If I could teach her “street-smarts” I would do. I’m trying (but spectacularly failing) to get her to attend a local karate school, where the inner discipline philosophy does appear to be very well taught.

      What can I say? I’m a parent: worrying about your kids goes with the territory.

  7. Very well done, Jess, and congratulations DsD & DsM.

    Young Munday goes up next year but given that he has been off school since before the summer hols due to illness, I will just be glad if he can go to school! The local school is good; it’s where he wants to go and he’d be with his existing classmates, so that will be my first choice.

    he went back for his first afternoon yesterday and said it felt like the whole school came to welcome him, which was nice. Bless.

    • Ali, I’m chuffed Young Munday appears to be on the way back up. And touching to hear about his welcome back. I once went four months between attending school days, thanks to a consecutive bout of chickenpox, tonsilitis and a particularly bad bout of glandular fever. When I went back, no-one said a word. My mates knew where I’d been; the school couldn’t give a toss (as long as my parents were still paying the fees, of course).

  8. Thanks all. Finally sat down on my own this eve. Really appreciate comments and concerns, and hope to get some PC time tomorrow or Fri eve to reply properly.

    But absolutely shattered now, and another early start due, so it’s bedtime for Bonzo.



    • We knew it had been for DsMam & I, but Jess had appeared to sail through it. We found out otherwise in the fortnight between test and results. Now that she’s “in”, Jess’ mood has lightened more than we’d noticed it darken previously. Note to self on parental duties: must try harder.

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