Now that Mr D has turned three he is at the age that he reaches his ‘entitlement’ to 15 hours of ‘early education’. We haven’t really had much thought for nursery other than if he is to go to one, I think I would prefer it to be a school based nursery. I don’t know why, but that just sort of feels like the right choice for us. That isn’t that there is anything wrong with private nurseries but I am not sure that is a choice for us at the moment.
We are lucky that we live close to a number of Primary Schools that are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted and they have on site nursery provision. Mr D becomes eligible for the 15 hours from January, so a week or so ago Damian and I paid a visit to the closest one to take a look at their early years provision and get a feel for the general school. I had thought it was the official open day but it seems there was a bit of a mix up and we were a week early. That said we were enthusiastically greeted by the Deputy Headteacher and given a lovely tour of the school.
I have made no secret of my consideration to home educate the children; but it isn’t a decision set in stone, and it isn’t a decision that we can come to without looking at the nurseries and schools available to us – to do so without considering them would be, for us, making a decision based on less than half the information available. In reality there are three primary schools that Mr D (and in turn Miss E) could go to. Any decisions that are made now need to be made with consideration to me potentially doing a nursery and school run when Miss E becomes eligible for her Early Education hours – there is a logistical consideration in terms of the nursery and school need to be on the same site, or at least close by!
I haven’t set foot in a primary school for many, many, many years, and of course things have changed. I didn’t really know what to expect and I have to be honest and say I left feeling underwhelmed. I wanted to be wowed at the things that were on offer to the children; to see what they were getting from the 15 hours of Early Education that they weren’t getting with me at home (and the activities that we go to) but I left feeling a bit ‘meh’. I found the room uninspiring and when I asked the staff if they themed the work (eg similar to have we have had our space and weather themes) I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the response.
We visited just after lunch time (I think it was around 13:15) and I was surprised to see the children all sat together in front of the TV. The Deputy Head suggested this was a daily thing to help ‘calm the children down’ after their lunch break. I don’t know, but this felt a little odd to me.
We then moved to the outside area which, whilst nice, didn’t strike me as anything special or beyond what the local parks offer. We then moved to the reception classes and then onto the other year groups.
The school had a nice feel to it, and the enthusiasm and dedication of the Deputy Headteacher who showed us around cannot be faulted, but she said things that only emphasized the things that cause me concern about the (current) school system. She talked about how they were keen that the final years didn’t just become an ‘exam factory’ – the testing element of our education system causes me much concern.
Damian asked about the PE set up (something along the lines how often do they do PE) and we then heard about how the Department for Education states it should be 10 hours a week (although I can’t find any evidence of this after googling). She said that as 10 hours was near impossible (it would require two hours each day!) that they have ‘bought in’ a sports franchise that comes in over the lunch period and the children take part in that. This opened up a whole host of questions for me around how that works in terms of are the children expected to take part in this, how does that work with them actually eating their lunch then playing sport etc. I find it hard to explain but it just made me feel that this was not something I wanted Mr D and Miss E to go into.
I left the visit feeling conflicted. I had expected, and wanted, to go into the nursery and see that they could offer the things that I wasn’t able to through the activities we do at home as well as the groups we go to. I wanted to hear that it was about letting the children explore the world and their environment in their own time. Instead I was left underwhelmed and worried when I heard phrases like ‘preparing them for school’ or ‘getting them ready’.
Mr D won’t be starting nursery in January. Instead we will continue with our monthly activities and regular groups. Damian and I will continue to explore the other early education options and this week I am meeting up with some people who are already home educating their children. I want to see how it works in reality and to understand how my local home education community works.
We have until March 2017 to make firm decisions around schooling, but I think it is wise that we start to explore all the options now.