Purple Dragon founder and CEO Sharai Meyers discusses the all-important decision of choosing the right school for your child.
“If you’re a parent of a 3, 8, 11 or 13-year-old, there are few things as hotly discussed as which school your offspring is applying to.”
JoJo Fox Rucksack £16, jojomamanbebe.co.uk
DEFINED AS BOTH “the process of teaching, training and learning, especially in schools or colleges” and “an interesting experience that teaches you something” by the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s Plato who challenges us to think, “The main function of education is not to put knowledge into the soul, but to bring out the latent talents in the soul by directing it towards the right objects.” Perhaps for most of us as parents a better definition is “source of intense anxiety or stress”.
If you’re a parent of a 3, 8, 11 or 13-year-old, there are few things as hotly discussed as which school your offspring is applying to. Normally sane, charming and happy parents can change into red-eyed, foam-at-the-mouth, terrifying individuals, best avoided in case George or Mia haven’t secured that coveted place to Thomas’s, Garden House, Westminster, Eton, Wycombe Abbey or St Mary’s Ascot – thus fated to a life of unthinkable failure.
It’s true that British public schools are still viewed as the gold standard and a weak pound is luring many more international families into the UK system, so competition for places at the top-tier schools is tough. However, a warning shot is being fired across the bows of all parents from mental health experts. Stress and anxiety among children is rising sharply as a result of mounting pressure to do well in exams, coming from ‘intensive’ parents and teachers. In an effort to make them stand out, even small children have schedules so packed with extracurricular activities, they’re doing the equivalent of a 60-hour work week. Researchers at New York’s Cornell University have suggested that the growing phenomenon of intensive parenting has eclipsed that of the so-called helicopter and snowplough parents.
When I was a child my parents were pretty blasé about whether I studied or not. Summer holidays were full of days scooping tadpoles from ponds, chasing badly behaved ponies around the fields and making up dances to whatever song we most loved that week. Daydreaming, making up fantastic adventures, and imagining what we’d be like when we were ancient, like 22 or 24 (gasp)…
Looking back now I could definitely have achieved better grades if I’d studied – I was that girl cramming Keats at lunchtime before the English Lit exam – but if I had, who would I be now? What would have been the cost? Now my boys are 11 and 13, this is something I think on more and more. Education should be about the individual. Our current system, as good as it is, can be guilty of a cookie cutter approach and it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that your child must attend a certain school, regardless of whether it’s right for them. Michelle Obama sums up education brilliantly for me: “One of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child – What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite.
As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”
And she’s right there with Plato, education is for life, not just for school. I’ve learnt more since I’ve had my children than I ever did between the ages of 5 and 18. They’ve taught me to question everything and see things with a new perspective. I’ve learnt about the terrors of social media; the possibility that an 11-year-old might need five different types of sports shoes for school; that I can survive on way less sleep than I thought; that time well spent is the most precious commodity.
Giving our kids opportunities to learn, not just the classics, but also about resilience, co-operation, compromise, different paths in life and that it’s okay to fail because everyone does sometime… surely this has to be as important in equipping our children to cope with what their future will hold? Learning through experience, giving things a shot, dipping in, discovering untapped talents and learning unexpected lessons is core to what we try to offer our members. Our club offers a safe space to go on adventures and be creative with people who are there for the journey and all that’s on offer along the way.
And finally, if you are about to enter the merry-go-round of exams and interviews, please do know that it’ll be okay. My boys came through Chelsea pre-prep and preps despite the fact that (between them) they: a) cried when the teacher took a cow out of the ‘mystery objects bag’ – who knew that could be a phobia at 3 (Sod’s Law); b) argued with the headmaster about whether the book had a tractor or a digger on the cover (super); c) stood on the head of school’s mascot bear (yes really); and d) told the interviewee they liked the school from that morning better (ho hum).