We’ve just found out where our eldest boy is going to school. As a parent, there are a range of high-tension moments you will experience (reaction to eating lemons, scooter crashes, surviving haircuts). But, as a parent and a teacher, this one gave me more stress than usual.
I’m not remotely concerned about him actually going to school: he’s ready for it. But what I found that I couldn’t get out of my head was where he might be going.
The local schools are all acceptable, but choosing the ranking was something of a challenge. It really shouldn’t have been, but being a teacher just made it harder.
Choosing a primary school: Asking about 'teachery' things
Of course, Covid didn’t help. This year, there were no school visits during the day. Although we were able to look around a couple of the schools in real life (and a couple virtually), we all know that schools are very different places when there are no children there.
Without the children there, you can’t get a real feel for the dynamics of the teaching, and you can’t get an idea of how the children at the school are. I always get a lot from seeing learners in the classroom: it’s like a sixth sense for teachers.
And, while I don’t want to be that parent, I find I can’t help but ask teachery things when I go into different schools. I can’t detach my knowledge and understanding of learning from work when I’ve been looking at schools for our boy, and it has been a right pain.
Looking around, I’m asking myself about the curriculum planning, the teaching and learning approaches, the experience of the staff, what the involvement of the wider academy trust is: the list goes on. I don’t have an actual checklist, but I feel like I’m a wannabe Ofsted inspector in parent guise.
And the worst part is that I can’t say I have particularly benefited from being a teacher. Knowing the trade hasn’t helped us particularly with the decision – it has been much more about finding the right fit for our son, rather than coming to a conclusion based on my professional judgement.
The parent from hell
So many non-teachers have asked me about the process for primary school applications, and, in honesty, I think I know less than them. There is a perceived notion that if you are a teacher, you know everything about education (Gavin Williamson is an exception – he thinks we don’t know anything.) People seem to think that you have some inside track on the schools that they don’t have, like a teachers’ black book, with all of the historical information on the school, dating back to 1921.
As much as I would like to have the answers, I’m learning just as quickly as the other parents. It’s totally new to me, too.
What I have learned is that I know what makes a good school, and I know what it takes to make a good school. But, as a parent, this information isn’t enough. If anything, my teacher’s knowledge and intuition have probably made me look like the parent from hell.
I have also learned that, as a parent, you see a school very differently from how you see it as a teacher. You value similar things, but you prioritise them differently.
Applying to primary school for my little boy has been the most unexpected CPD I have ever undertaken, but looking at school through that different lens has really opened my eyes to various aspects of school life that we deal with every day.
All the same, I’m glad I only have to go through it once.
Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches