Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 28th August 2013
Like many of Brentwood’s parents, we have been preparing for the new school year and, for the first time, the change from primary to secondary school.
Aside from the expensive business of gathering uniform, PE kit, scientific calculators and the like, this feels like a major step for us and our son. It is easy to forget that we all have to face the change and to lose sight of the fact that schools are better prepared to assist in the transition than ever before.
Because parents have to apply for school places so early into the new school year, it feels like a very drawn out process and also a big decision. However, contact with our local schools over the past year has convinced me that we have reliable options in Brentwood and that we should approach our choices without fear.
Last week’s coverage of the excellent “A” level outcomes at our established schools underlines that we are very well served academically and, for those whose priority is prayer, there is also now the option of Becket Keys free school.
Things have certainly changed since I moved from Junction Road Junior, which eventually became Holly Trees Primary, to Brentwood County High School. You will note from the accompanying photograph that my blazer had been purchased to allow for some growth and that I was successfully covering up whatever nerves I felt.
I don’t really remember what my thoughts were that day but I do know that the next seven years were full of good memories, that I made many new friends and that I left with sufficient qualifications to move on to university and beyond. It is the hope of every parent that their child has a similar experience of course.
I found that attending school Open events at our local schools provided plenty of reassurance that the majority of Brentwood’s children will.
The encounters with articulate, bright and engaged students, helping out of school hours, during these visits put into perspective the outdated views of those who choose to believe that those who appear on Jeremy Kyle or other “reality” TV are representative of the nation’s youth.
When I left Junction Road the vast majority of my classmates joined me at County High, only three pupils went to other schools. That has certainly changed as parents are now less likely to apply for a school just on locality.
My son’s year group will be moving on to at least eight different establishments despite being one of the schools from which the idea of Becket Keys sprang. Indeed, two years or so on, some who actively campaigned for the free school did not send their own children there.
Extending the number of schools seems on the face of it to be a positive thing however I care passionately that this should not lead to a corresponding decrease in choice for students.
One of the most important aspects of the move to secondary school for me was the chance to study new subjects and have a choice when choosing my “O” level options. Economics, Sociology, Spanish, Ceramics and Computer Studies were just some of the subjects new to me. I took exams in some but learnt something in all of them.
I want my children to have as wide a curriculum available to them as possible. Only schools that maintain a certain minimum size and corresponding financial resource over time can provide this as they need to ensure they have the staff and equipment to do so.
Because funding is per head of pupil, spreading students over an increasing number of schools reduces their ability to maintain a truly broad curriculum.
It seems ridiculous to me that we should be risking the provision of a truly broad set of options for our young people by apparently extending “parental choice”!