why i’m sending my kid to a school in special measures

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It was never meant to be the case.

The kids and I often walked past the fag-smoking, obscenity-shrieking parents at drop-off or pick-up time, but I knew we’d not be living here when the time came to make a Decision. As a teacher, the school did provoke my curiosity – but there was no point wasting time or energy finding out about it.

And then, gradually, as God revealed plans for us to stay exactly where we are, ministering in this area and living in this Vicarage, the Hypothetical turned to Actual. We were Actually going to have to make a decision – and this establishment, with its poor test results and shocking attendance figures, was our catchment school. The head of Mister’s preschool had warned us of the ‘rough families’ it attracted, and advised not to go near it with a barge pole. Our next-door-neighbour’s daughter, having spent a few weeks in the school, was told by one of the teachers that there was a “much better school down the road”, with the implication that this intelligent young girl would be better catered for there. She promptly moved school.

With these less-than-savoury second-hand impressions, you might have wondered why two Oxbridge-educated, qualified-teacher parents didn’t consider the ‘better school down the road’ – after all, the ‘better’ school is less than ten minutes’ walk away. Hardly unjustifiable in terms of the whole Sending-Your-Child-To-The-Local-School ethic. But, as we found ourselves falling more and more for this area, so we found ourselves falling more and more for the school over the road. Going into special measures last year (the lowest rating given by Ofsted, the national inspectors for schools) was the best thing for the place. There’s a new headteacher, new staff, new equipment, and stacks of funding for improving just about everything. The school has an optimistic feel. The children we’ve seen have been on task, polite and friendly. This is one of the reasons we’re entrusting our son to the school for the next few years. Another is because, as a teacher, I want to see this school improve, and know that it can only go so far unless it has a majority of parents who are committed to the place. We’re hooking up to this increasing mass of supportive families, and can’t wait.

But that’s only a fraction of it.

For each loud-mouthed mum screaming at her many, many kids outside the school gates, there are ten others who we don’t see because we don’t hear. They support education. They support the school. They want to do what’s right for their child. Actually, they’re not too dissimilar to me.

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And the loud-mouths and the invisible ones – well, that’s just surface stuff. Underneath, there are a lot of hurting families living in poverty or chaos or both. I know this because all Reception kids are given breakfast during the first part of the school day. This is not a Breakfast Club for rich, working parents – this is because not every child will get breakfast at home. Also, we were told that it would be really good  if we could label all our kids’ clothes – but not to worry if we didn’t manage to do it, as the Reception staff would do it for us. In my sheltered Home-Counties upbringing, I never had to worry about my clothes being unnamed – but if you’re attempting to raise your family in the midst of abuse, debt, relational breakdown or whatever, whether to go iron-on or permanent marker is the least of your worries.

We need to be in this place. We need to learn that privilege is the exception, not the rule. We need to get to know families who can educate us about what life is like for them. We need to develop empathy, and discover how we can best serve those who struggle. We need to be here because Jesus would be here. It’s time to stop ignoring the poor.

Now please understand that I’m not criticising anyone who, in the same position, would have made a different decision. We each have different and complex criteria surrounding the decision-making process when it comes to our children’s education, and I’m not the one to judge. All I know is that when Jesus returns, we will need to account for the decisions we made – and, on this occasion, we feel convicted that this is the choice God is calling us to make.

Am I concerned for my son? That he will learn to swear? That he will follow the wrong ringleader? That he will be bullied? Yes – but no more than I would were he going to any other school. In fact, the environment he’ll be going into has made me pray all the harder for Mister: that he would be a leader, not a follower. That he would stand up for good. That he would be kind to others. That the prophetic word given at his dedication service – “touched by the hand of God for his generation” – would start to bear fruit.

God is in this school – and, we believe, wants to bring many of its students, parents and staff to know Him.

Sending Mister to this school was never supposed to happen – but, actually, it’s no mistake.

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50 Replies to “why i’m sending my kid to a school in special measures”

  1. Wow! I am in awe of you. To hear so clearly from God and to follow where most of us would fear to tread is so awe-inspiring. I can’t say that I would make this decision, nor that I would want to make it, but I pray that if I am ever called to follow a truly challenging, terrifying path, I will go where God leads. I shall try to remember to pray for you and especially for Joel. X

    1. Thanks for commenting Laura. I would say it wasn’t like God gave us One Very Clear Message that we should send Joel to this school. In fact, I think He rarely speaks like that, as learning to hear His voice is part of our ongoing discipleship and drawing closer to him. But I guess it’s all about taking one small step at a time, trying to live each day for God’s glory. If this is your desire then yes, God will at some point challenge you to things that previously (and maybe currently) seemed terrifying – but He will also give you a passion for it, and a peace about it! Not something to fear at all – He has the best plan for you and your family! All the best x

  2. I work in one of these types of (low decile = poor) schools in New Zealand – very high poverty (we frequently have to feed our students breakfast and provide them with lunch too ), high unemployment, poor housing, which brings associated health problems. I have previously taught in high decile schools (rich), in the UK & NZ. but never really felt that they were where I ‘fitted’. I love my school and my job – it is so satisfying to know that you are doing what you have been made to do and that you are making a difference. No, it’s not always easy – there have been a few days when 5 o’clock has been wine o’clock, but I am glad to say these are few and far between. I have a fantastic set of colleagues, who are all singing off the same page – that we want to offer the students a 1st class education, regardless and despite of their home lives. Thank you for being parents who stand to support staff in similar situations – I am sure that God will indeed raise your son to be a great leader.

    1. Thanks Stripy – great to hear your experiences. As a former teacher and now parent, I am SO INDEBTED to people like you who are called to work in these tough places. The way you’re raising these kids’ aspirations is incredible – perhaps you don’t always see it from day to day, but one day they’ll thank you for giving them the skills to work their way out of poverty. I hope my husband and I can serve the staff of this school through verbal encouragement and gratitude.

  3. It sounds as if you are in the same sort of area as us. We felt called to be here and to minister here. When we came the parish profile said ‘we know we are failing in nearly every area’ but we felt called to be where people were in real need. We have found it a massive priviledge to be where we are and have found people so receptive to what we are trying to do in Jesus’s name. Praying that you find the same x

    1. Great encouragement to hear this from you Becca! Wow, sounds like you’re doing amazing things in the ‘desert’. Jesus spent so much of his time with the poor – I’m sure He is blessing, and will continue to bless, your ministry. I’m also sure that there will be countless situations and people where you’re having a huge impact but don’t yet see the fruit. Press on!

  4. Having worked in a secondary school (in a deprived area) just out of special measures I have seen the positive impact that parents like you have had on the place. The children of these parents are great to work with as they’re such considerate people.

    1. And this from a former student…! I feel very proud that you’ve done this Becca 🙂 I did my PGCE main placement in a tough school, then got a cushy job teaching you wonderful people! (Although every school has its challenges…) The next job was a more mixed catchment. It’s not easy, but your work is so, SO appreciated by parents and kids, even if it’s only the ones who don’t appreciate it who ever speak up. Be encouraged 🙂

  5. WOW! Lucy, this is bold and mature stuff. It’s wonderful to see. Parents who want what’s right for the children do all manner of different things to get them an education, but yes, ultimately we will have to give an account to God for all our decisions ever, and the decisions about our children’s education therefore need to be coloured by him and in line with his will. Every parent will arrive at a different conclusion about schooling, but I do know this: engaging with our local community and getting alongside parents who are hurting are ALWAYS calls which Jesus makes on our life. For a parent like you who occupies an influential position in your demographic (using your current career break to tirelessly serve other parents including leading toddler groups, married to vicar of local church, etc) you can naturally spearhead the change you want to see at this school. They’ll love having you on board! And I’ll certainly join you in praying for Joel – I know Freddie really looks up to him and I’m sure his new classmates will too.

    1. As always, you’re a wonderful encourager, lovely lady! I value your friendship and support so much 🙂 I think if we commit our days to God, then step-by-step He leads us to those who need Him, whether in deprived or privileged areas. It’s never easy, stepping outside of your comfort zone, but we have a joyful existence to look forward to one day 🙂 Praying for you too, and your influence at Freddie’s school – you’re such a social anchor in your area, and I know God will use your gifts of availability, empathy and sociability to bless those around you. xx

  6. We applaud your decision. It is always best for a child to attend the school nearest his home, as it then becomes a sort of extension of home. Your involvement will help the other parents and the school. If we, as grandparents, could do anything to help, perhaps in a material sense, then let us know. One thing I believe will happen – you will start looking after Joel’s friends from school until their parents get home!!!

    1. Thanks Mum 🙂 It’s great to know we have the support of our families! I don’t know that there are a whole load of kids at the school who have two working parents 😦 But we may still end up playing hosts to Joel’s friends! x

  7. Found your blog through Mumsnet and just wanted to say, as a fellow teacher, that I really admire and support your decision. I have taught in tough and comfortable areas and even in the toughest, there are lovely, bright kids and supportive parents. A school one of my friends works in was in a similar position to your local one – very poor inspections results etc – got a fantastic new head, more money put in for support, a young, enthusiastic staff and it is now most improved in its region. Plus, research suggests that it is positive parental input that decides a child’s educational outcome and your son sounds like he’s very lucky in that area.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write! What you said encourages me so much. I know similar stories – and had also heard the thing about parental input being the biggest factor. I hope our kids will thrive in education, but I also hope that we can have a positive impact on other kids and their families and help them to thrive too, particularly in situations where the stats are stacked against them. I know that we, as a family, will gain so much from being part of this school too. 🙂

  8. This is brilliant! I worked in a school who went into special measures and it was the best thing which happened! I am now a parent and I am amazed at the number of fellow parents who write-off schools on the basis of their OFSTED reports – or who think that because they were “Outstanding” they must be brilliant. This is not always the case. Good for you!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement! Yes, I think we teachers see it from a different angle, don’t we? I can understand parents just looking at Ofsted, because – let’s be frank – most of us don’t have a clue how to parent, we just play it by ear, and especially if you don’t have a background in education you won’t know what you’re looking for, so Ofsted is something concrete to read, something to help you feel like you’re doing the best for your child. But I would love to see parents better educated about our education system! After all, it’s changed a lot since we were young, and that’s most parents’ only experience of it.

  9. I found your blog through mumsnet. We were in exactly the same boat last year and dd has finished reception with exceeding expectations in all area. A lot of money has been thrown at the school and it is improving rapidly.

    Schools go up and down. The school down the road may well be sitting on their laurels thinking that middle class parents will ensure good results. Unfortunately OFSTED are becoming savy to lazy middle class schools.

    1. Absolutely – as a former teacher I agree entirely. In fact, the ‘better’ school down the road from us got ‘requires improvement’ just before Christmas, thus proving your point, although I try to take Ofsted with a pinch of salt, as they’re in school for such little time nowadays so they do most of their assessment based on written data, which represents only a fraction of what primary schools actually do for our kids! So encouraged by your story, one year ahead of us – thank you!

  10. Hi also coming here via mumsnet.

    My daughter is about to finish her first year at the unpopular local school. We didn’t choose it but it was the only one we could get into although there are many others in walking distance.

    It’s been great.

    I’ve had the opportunity to go on a couple of school trips now and 90% of the kids are lovely, caring little people. I try not to judge but yes some of the parents worry me when lunch is just 2 bags of crisps and breakfast is chocolate from the corner shop but I’ve also discovered that some of those loud mums with loads of kids are always the first to help out with the school fair or to come in and read with the kids.

    Academically she is thriving and socially she has friends from a wide.range of social and cultural backgrounds, which to me is an education in itself.

    The school also had a bad OFSTED at the start of the year but there is a new head and several new governors (including my husband) and i really think they can turn it into a positive.

    I.hope your son will be as happy at his new school

    1. Ah, that is a massive encouragement! Thanks for taking the time to write. Great to hear of some of the positives you’ve experienced since your daughter started at the school. I agree – mixing with people from a wide range of backgrounds is just about the best education you can get! Imagine how great your daughter will be at chatting to and relating to all sorts of people when she’s grown up and functioning in an adult workplace. Fab stuff – keep it up! (PS I’m hoping for some trips too…free fun, right?!)

  11. Found your blog through Mumsnet – we’ve just signed up our 3YO for a nursery school that got Requires Improvement last year, for much the same reasons! I saw a lot of positivity and dedication when we looked around, and there’s so much being done to improve things. Plus only five minutes’ walk from our new house. I really want to be part of that community effort, and I want my son to be a compassionate, open-minded person who can get on with anyone.

    He’s our oldest, so in a lot of ways I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing – thank you for helping me feel like the decision was a good one!

    1. Thanks for the solidarity Rachel! Glad to have encouraged you, as you have encouraged me by reminding me that we’re not the only ones making this decision! Joel is our eldest too, so we’re totally fumbling around in the dark, but we have every confidence in the school’s ability to get the most out of each child who crosses its boundaries.

  12. Hi there desertmum.
    This blog was very encouraging. Going through trying times myself and it was encouraging. We all have trials and struggles but to choose to stay where you are, wow, that’s admirable. I’m 48 and never got married or had kids. God took me a different rout, of singleness, childlessness and loneliness. Who would choose that, right? Now I’ve got fibroids the size of a football {British} 20 plus centimetres, and need a hysterectomy. At first, I got mad/angry with God and shouted a lot at Him. “Isn’t it enough, Lord, that you gave me no husband, a man to love, to love me, no children, friends? Now I lose my womb? For following You and this is my reward… is it? What more do you want from me?”
    The silence was deafening. I’m tired of well meaning Christians telling me God only wants the best for me. Really? It’s usually married Christians with families who say this and I want to scream, “NO… what YOU’ve got is His very best, you’re married, what I’ve got certainly is NOT his best for me at all.
    Well anyway, would appreciate your prayers please. And I’ll remember Joel in his school too.

    Maggie

    1. Hi Maggie,
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so sorry for all that’s going on. There are no easy answers to suffering are there? Sometimes all we can cling to is the hope of heaven, the hope that one day we will all be made perfect as the bride of Christ. But we’ve been designed to have desires and dreams here on earth too – and whilst it’s amazing that we do have these, it can also be incredibly frustrating and depressing when they aren’t realised. Remembering you in prayer over the next few days.
      And yes, God does challenge us all in living radically for Him – whether we’re single, married, divorced, have kids, don’t have kids… Be encouraged that you’re not alone!
      xx

  13. Erm -whilst i agree that the LEA are putting serious resource in bringing below bar schools up – they are not going to bring them up to grammar school or oxbridge levels. It sounds like you and your husband each had a great education and your planning on giving your son a poorer one, deliberately denying him a chance of getting as good an education as you had and justifying it as being ‘what Jesus wants’. I’m surprised that you think your an authority on what Jesus wants for your son and I hope your son agrees with your choice when he does not get the chance to go to ‘oxbridge’. I think you should do the very best that you can for your son.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and especially expressing an opinion which I’m sure others are thinking but not saying. My husband and I did not go to grammar schools – just ordinary state schools. And when we got to Oxford, we met plenty of people who had come from schools like ours, or much worse. The Oxbridge entrance process is designed to test potential, not knowledge. Our primary schools were lovely, but no better than the one we’re sending our son too. Schools nowadays offer a heck of a wider education than they did when we were little. Ofsted does not give the whole picture, as its assessment is based mainly on data (they only usually spend one day in a school).

      I don’t always find it easy to listen to God’s guidance, or to apply the Bible as it was intended, but I do think that my husband and I are the best people to judge what is right for our son, since we know him best – and we do so whilst attempting to take our standpoint from the Bible, not popular culture. All through the gospels, Jesus is mixing with a wide variety of people, but has a lot of time for the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised. God has given us this fantastic opportunity to serve in an area with a lot of problems, and we’re grateful to Him for that.

      We would be delighted if our son wanted to follow our choice of university – and we’re certain that our choice of primary school is NOT a barrier to Oxbridge! We would also be equally proud of him if he went to any university, or if he chose not to go to university.

  14. Thanks for your blog post. My children are in a school that is likely to get a category 4 in it’s next inspection we knew the school had issues when we chose it but the positive atmosphere and the attitude of the staff sold the place to us over another good rated school that had places for them when we moved into the are. I have joined the school governors and am trying to put lots into the school to see improvement from all the children. I do have wobbles though from time to time about whether I’m doing the right thing and your words today have really encouraged me to stick in there and trust that God has a plan for us in this school.

    1. That is just SO encouraging – thank you for commenting! It sounds like you’ve done – and are doing – a wonderful thing. I think a few wobbles are to be expected when travelling the narrow path of what Jesus has asked of you – but, ultimately, it’s a path of more peace, joy and all sorts of new discoveries about ourselves, those around us, and God. Well done for sticking with it all, and for the time you put in as governor. I’m sure these things really make God smile 🙂 You’ve encouraged me that we’re not the only ones making this decision – thank you!

  15. Hi Lucy – this is such a great post! I’m personally not religious but I do surround myself (as best as I can) by positivity and you have a great attitude so it’s lovely to hear about your views, particularly as a teacher/parent, and how perhaps we should all look under the surface at what really is important x

    1. Ah, thanks Kate! I’m not ashamed of my faith, and it’s a key part of this blog, but I do hope others can resonate with what I’m saying, even if how they’ve arrived at that viewpoint is a little different. Lots and lots of people out there are very socially minded. Some are Christians, some are Muslims, some agnostic, Atheist, Klingon, whatever…it’s just great connecting with like-minded folk! x

  16. when my eldest son was due to leave his infant school, the Junior school had been put into special measures. We looked at the alternatives (another local Junior School, or even private education) and spoke to the head of the infants, she told us that our child was lucky, the Junior school would be only going upwards, there would be a lot of investment, support and LEA input. If she had to make the same decision as us she would send her son without hesitation. She told us that we should support the school, that we could provide additional resources and input if we wished as most parents do anyway at home or on holidays, and that our children could only benefit. SHe also pointed out that it was the children currently leaving the juniors who had been let down.
    We sent both our sons, I became a parent governor for a while, and yes, occasionally we did support their learning outside school. BUT it was the right decision, our sons can now confidently communicate with people from all walks of life, can stand up for themselves if need be and also – perhaps more crucially – know when to walk away.
    I think you are making the right decision. Good luck.

    1. Brilliantly put – thank you. Yes indeed – the only way is up! Schools change so quickly, especially primary schools. What is a good school when you send your kids there can quickly become worse – and vice versa. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      1. I forgot to mention that they both subsequently went to University, youngest is now doing a Masters, and eldest is settled at work and getting married soon! Not Oxbridge (they didn’t want to try for them) , but the first from our respective branches of our families to get to University. So proud of both of them.

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