Day 7: SCHOOLS CHOSEN!!!

Yesterday I was on my own and had grand plans to visit 5-10 schools in the Taunton area (I had only seen Bridgwater schools up until that point), but the day didn’t end up cooperating with me.  It turns out that over the past day or two I had been very lucky, but at most schools you must make appointments to be able to tour the school and chat with the headmaster.  Once I had been turned away from two schools in a row, I realized I needed to go back to my hotel room and make some phone calls if I wanted to be welcomed.  So yesterday I was only able to see one school – it was a very nice school but felt crowded and a little rowdy.  Defeated, I retreated to the safety of my room and managed to work up a bit of optimism and a game plan for the next day (once phone calls were made and appointments were set, of course).

Rich had the day off today, and since our school decision was to be made at 4pm, he didn’t have much choice about the nature of his day.  All his dreams of visiting Bath had to be pushed off to tomorrow – a day of which he will be in control (if he wishes).

After a full English breakfast (cereal, fruit, bacon AND sausage, egg, toast and tomato), we set out for the day.  First up was a school in Trull – the area we drove through that was very quiet and nice, with beautiful large homes that are probably out of our budget.  The school was FABULOUS.  Two children from the oldest class were chosen to give us the school tour, and they did a wonderful job showing us around and answering our questions.  They both were incredibly polite and I really liked how the school gave students the chance to do important work like this.  The school building itself was newer and recently had been added on to.  The children were very well behaved and seemed in control at all times, yet very happy to be there.  There were even extras such as a swimming pool on site!  We had a nice long meeting with the headmaster, who was very charming and kind.  This was our new favorite school.  Sadly, they already have more students applying to get in than are going to be allowed, so our chances to get in were almost zero.

Next up we decided to swing by (without an appointment) to another Church of England school nearby at the Trull school’s headmaster’s suggestion.  Somehow I had not noted it as a school I had wanted to visit, but it was rated very highly and was in a nice part of town, and I’m not sure why I missed it.  Unfortunately they were not able to see us, as the headmaster was out for an undetermined amount of time.  But we did get a prospectus and got to peek down the hall and onto the field, and it looked like a very nice place similar to the Trull school where children were enjoying themselves and well behaved.  This school, site almost unseen, was now our number two school.

I had decided to check out a more rural school just for the fun of it in a village just north of Taunton called Kingston St. Mary.  The area suprised us – we rounded the bend and came across very nice homes and in the middle a darling little school.  I wish I had a picture for you – it is probably 30 years old but is in very good condition.  Only 100 children attend the school and is more of a family atmosphere – the headmaster not only knows each of the children’s names, but really KNOWS the children and their families.  And although it is a village school, it had all the new equipment the other in-town Church of England schools had such as a computer room and an interactive white board in each classroom.  Some of the highlights were the “friendship bench” on the playground where a child who might have no one to play with and was feeling left out could go sit, and one of the older kids (given that job that day to manage the friendship bench) would go up to the child and invite them to play with them that day.  I could give many examples of this kind of caring ethos that absolutely enveloped the entire school’s ethos.  The whole school was inviting and wonderful.  The reception teacher had been teaching for a number of years and was very knowledgable.   I waffled between this being my new favorite choice or my second favorite choice behind Trull.

Finally we had decided to check out one private school.  I should say here that private schools in England are very expensive, so we’re not even sure it’s in our price range, but we thought it would be only fair to look at one at least.  I had chosen King’s Hall Pre-Prep for several reasons, one being that its nursery and reception had been rated as outstanding by Ofstead (a very rare and high honor), one being that its nursery (equivalent to preschool in the US) is contained within the school, and one being that nursery is a montessori program (which Connor is enrolled in a part-montessori program at home).

I didn’t expect that the school would be so excellent that it would want to sway me from the state schools that I found quite good, but it just might.  There is a small fenced-off forest in the back of the school and nursery and reception classes have a few days of “outdoor education” where they learn how to use a compass, make a shelter, whittle, play in the mud, and all kinds of wonderful things.  There was a beautiful pool on the grounds.  Also there was a log cabin that functioned as the library made just for the nursery and reception class.  The teacher to student ratio was much stronger than the other schools.  Only positive reinforcement was given, unless a child made a very bad mistake and broke one of the eight “rules” – all worded positively of course such as “be honest” and “be kind” and then if it happened two times in a day they might have to lose 5 minutes of “golden time” – free-play time where the children can choose to do whatever they want.  Activities were extremely well-planned and done very much in advance.  I could go ON and ON – just like I do for Connor’s current school.  If we can afford it, this is the school home I’d like to make for him.

I’ll say here that generally I find Britain’s schools to be very good.  Teachers go a wonderful job planning lessons that really inspire and encourage the child to learn.  No dry lessons here, folks!  Whatever school Connor ends up at, I’m sure he’ll do just fine.

So, only less than an hour ago, I sent in my state school choices via email – I won’t post them here for privacy’s sake for now.  But the current line of thinking is to check the budget and perhaps enroll Connor into King’s Hall for Nursery for the remainder of this year, and then as we see how the budget goes we can easily switch him to whichever state school he gets in to next September at the beginning of the school year.

Finally the schools are chosen and it is out of our hands.  Tomorrow – a “spa day” in BATH!!!

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