Monday, March 24, 2014

Very reluctantly pulling my head out of the sand about school!

Some of the getting out of limbo stuff kind-of happened and gave me a good kick-start.

Our pre-school goes up to Grade R so kids can stay there if the parents prefer... or go straight to Grade R at the school they'd go to for Grade 1.

We took K to an opthalmologist last year because D was worried about something she sometimes does with her one eye...(the doctor said there was no concern, just as I said) and in conversation, he said that his son stayed at the pre-school for Grade R and had some trouble adjusting when he went to Grade 1, so with his next one, he would put the child in Grade R at the school of choice to make the adjustment easier.

That was interesting for us to hear. Granted, a focus group of 1 but still.

(I really hate talking about schools since everyone has such strong opinions about it - it's like the breastfeeding/ bottle-feeding scenario X 100.... so I never consciously talk about it if I can help it)

So I emailed my friend with the twins and asked her if she was going to put the girls in a school next year or leave them at our pre-school.

She said she wants them to go to Grade R at the "big" school.

Anyway, in our discussions, she told me that a school in our suburb was having their open day. This was last Sat.

We went... met them there actually... and found that the mother of one of the kids in Connor's class is actually the one Grade R teacher. Her kids are a good ad for her because they're both really nice, well-mannered kids.

Visiting the school was a wonderful experience.

We were met at the gate by a lovely Grade 7 - well-spoken, friendly and unflustered despite us chasing after the kids every few minutes. This child escorted us around the school, to the Grade R classes, library, sports facilities and then to the hall for all the administration.

Each family was shown around by a Grade 7 and really, they were all lovely.

Both D and I had a really nice feeling about the school. Well-organised but still caring about the kids, etc.

So we're applying to this one.

For the benefit of my non-SA friends, a quick run-down as I understand it, because in "my day" and circumstances (coloured schooling in another province) things were not as crazy as they are here in Jhb and post 1994!!!

There are private schools - these cost a fortune but vary in their prices and beliefs. This stuff I know nothing about but apparently some are good if you're Catholic, some don't care about religion, some are focussed on well rounded kids, etc. Those who are experts on the private schools please comment!

There are some starting at R40 000 a year, some at the R70 000 mark (our nearest Christian private school) and some at R100 000 a year (very poncy one near my work).

I gather that the key benefit is a small children: teacher ratio. I heard from my friend that the school they have their hearts set on (private school) has a class size of 15 kids.

Then you get government schools and these vary all over the place too - really nice ones and some not-great ones.

The one we went to look at is subsidised about 50% by the government, and costs about R18 000 for the year. I can't remember the exact amount but I know it's less than what we currently pay.

Of course I'm not counting the extras but every school has these.

With one private school (poncy one near my work - Robyn, your friend's kid goes there :)) the extras were never optional, e.g. whether you like it or not, your child WILL come on a class trip and you WILL pay the R5000 even if your family has other commitments.......... actual experience from a colleague.

The school we looked at has a class size of 28.

We have to go see another government school in May (another really good one in the area) and we need to agree on a date to visit one private school (we missed the open day) - a Christian one but about 14 km away from our home. This is not a huge distance by Jhb standards but it is by mine (you all know I hate driving, traffic, etc.....)

The government schools have this "zoned" business. The street we live on runs across a main road. We are on the other side of the main road so we're 3 houses outside of the zone of the school we visited. Technically they have to take kids within the zone first (I think this is how it works???) and they can then consider those outside the zone if there are still places.

People are very passionate about these things.

I know one friend who really wanted her kids in a particular government school. They sold the house where they were living, consciously buying a house within the zone to make sure they get into the school. It worked - boy 1 is there already and boy 2 will go there next year.

Maybe I'm lazy, maybe I'm naive but I'm not willing to go to those lengths just for a school. Unless I love the house and was looking to move anyway.

I spoke to another colleague at work and she was saying things I actually believe too.

Her kids go to good government schools and she pays for extra maths tutoring for one son. Now that makes sense to me.

Pay R2000 a month and pay an extra R1000 for tutoring, rather than R6000 and you may still have to pay for that extra tutoring.

I'm also not convinced that what parents intend is necessarily what comes out of a private school, otherwise Excos of all companies would be privately schooled individuals, right?

I feel like I'm the only person who feels this way - we could pay for private schooling (if I remain employed :)) BUT I'm not sure that private schooling is all that great except for the smaller class size.

I actually want my kids to be exposed to lots of diversity - not only of race but also of class. It goes against everything inside me to think of them only associating with kids who've known every privilege in life...

Pre-1994 we all went to school with kids who looked exactly like we did. These days we're mixing in terms of race but now it's the haves and the have-nots.

I don't have the answers; I'm just sharing what's on my heart.

Anyway, where do you stand on all this stuff?
Where are your kids going to school? Are you sorted for next year?
How did you make the decision?

PS I do realise that no one school is going to completely satisfy me. Thank you, Julia, for that life lesson shared in Chef Pon's :)
PPS also, be gentle. I'm not judging anyone.


  1. I agree with you as usual. The boys will go to Catholic Kindergarten next year, but only because it's easier than paying for extra childcare, and they will be on Phoebe's bus home. Our intention is to send them to our public school district in a few years. Part of why I believe in our public school district is the education is fantastic and I want our children to see diversity, both of ethnicity and economic backgrounds. Good luck!

  2. I finally made the decision to apply to the Montessori school downtown. I have visited the public school twice...met with the principal, and then observed the Kindergarten class for an hour and a half. If we didn't get into the Montessori school, I would be OK with the girls going there. I finally made the decision based on class size, though. I have challenged our girls in terms of skills and thought process since Day 1, and I want them to continue to be challenged. Knowing they're at one end of the spectrum, I am afraid they won't get that challenge amid 26 or so other kids.

    Ultimately, I want them to go to public school, but we're going to try the private route for the first two or three years, which I hope will give them a really solid foundation.

    Our school system sounds similar to get zoned for different public schools. Since J is a teacher in the system, though, we have our pick within the system, which is great. Living in a smaller area, though, we don't have many private options. The Montessori schools are the only secular private schools, and I feel very strongly in the separation of church and formal education.

    I am so glad you had a great visit! I feel 100 pounds lighter, having at least applied to the Montessori school. It feels good to have finally made a decision. Now to hope we get in!!!

    1. Since I'm on the iPad, everything Mandy just said applies to me too. I agree whole heartedly. Only here, we cannot afford the private schools here, secular or non. Since G has his pick of public schools being a teacher, they'll be going to school near where he teaches because the schools are arguably better equipped and more diverse. I would love, love, love to go the private route but we simply can't afford tens of thousands of dollars each year for school for them.

  3. We are looking to move all the kids to one school - I actually don't care how much it costs or what they believe - I CAN NOT do this driving around anymore. (ok I do care...maybe ;-p)

    Seriously though....private schools really aren't all that! You have no guarentee of the numbers - we have a few here that have class numbers of 25+ - same as some public schools. So honestly, if you have a good public school then go with that. You have the same issues at private schools that you do at public schools! Having said that we don't have any decent public schools here so our only option is private! We actually do not have one single English public school that is suitable!

    On the zoning - you are right but there are ways around it if you or D work in the zoned area and you are willing to fight a little bit if that is really the school you want - not as in fight and get ugly but be persistent :) Or beg - thats how I got my kids into the school Cameron is in now (which is deteriorating a bit). We actually did consider moving to the area that is zoned for Pretoria Boys but after really thinking about it, it made no sense at all.

    Cameron went to the same Gr R as Gr 1 and I would definitely do it with Jack. It makes the transition easier, the teachers know any issues, they teach the same way the Gr 1 teachers teach etc etc. It makes more sense to me so I will definitely do it.

    But accepting that no one school is going to make everyone happy is probably your best bet!!! Because school is a whole nother world!

  4. I think you know my views on this one - a good public school is just as good as a private school. Ours have a 1:25 children real ratio (which means that at no time any one teacher have more than 25 kids in front of her). Make sure about this one as some schools claim a low ratio but if you divide the total amount of kids through the total amount of teachers - this is not a real ratio as there are computer, library and PT teachers included.

    As to the zoning - they also these days look at the amount of km that you live away from the school - ie if you are really close but out of the zone they may go around that one for you. So maybe indicate on forms that you are just 2 houses outside or amount of km (I remember something like 5km?)

    As the formal school now starts at grade 0 (R) from this year and not grade 1 any more it makes more sense than ever to send them to the "big school" for this. They did this at our school already from last year and C moved across to grade 1 with almost no adjustment. They already had computers, Pt and media at the bog school - they know the buildings, their way around, the teachers etc. Without a doubt I would not even consider anything else.

  5. I'm going to get N in at whatever big school she goes to from Grade R. We can't just rock up and apply though, there are specific department dates for this apparently? Anyhoo, I have been stalking schools since she was two and I am now in regular contact with my favourite about forms and such since February.

    It's a public school, I kind of feel the same as you do about Private schools...although to be honest, I couldn't afford to send her to one even if I wanted to! Hahaha...

    I have two schools on my radar, the one more so than the other - but if we don't get in to choice 1 I would be pretty okay with choice 2 as well.

  6. We are fortunate to have very good government schools in our area for our grandchildren...they are the same schools my children went to. They don't cost an arm and a leg. I do see that children are brought in from outlying areas in mini busses and on the back of I don't think all schools are very worried about the zoning aspect.

  7. Mmmm...I find that it’s only people who have money who fight about stuff like this. Life is very different for parents who are poor. Their kids go to crappy government schools and still thrive – it ultimately depends on the child and how involved the parent is. Life is also very different for parents who have neuro-atypical kids. In our case, options are limited even if you have money because there are very few schools that cater for the neuro-atypical child. You’ll inevitably end up on a waiting list as long as your arm.
    That said, if I was in your situation then I would do a GOOD government school (you are right, some of them are fantastic and others are rubbish) and then use the private school option for High School. Makes perfect sense to me to spend a smallish amount on school fees and then pay for extra help – this is what I’m currently doing and it works WELL. Remember, you don’t only pay school fees, there are PLENTY of extras that they don’t tell you about beforehand, so R6000 could easily end up being R8000.
    The High School marks count for universities and all the other tertiary options and by then you will have a pretty good idea of where your child’s interests lie. So if they are math and science inclined then you send them to a private high school that specialises in that, if they are all about the arts then you send them to a private high school with a strong arts programme. 14km is FAR so I wouldn’t even consider it unless you can afford to pay for transport to and from school.
    I have MANY friends whose kids are private schooled. There are pros and cons to both private or government options and from where I’m sitting and based on what they tell me, private schools are not always all that.
    If my kids were neuro-typical (ie with zero issues) then I would go Montessori or Waldorf. I LOVE LOVE LOVE alternative schooling because they are not all about putting the kids through the sausage factory/boxing them into submission, and it’s at this type of school where you find real diversity.
    Also. Joshua attended a lovely little catholic school for his foundation phase. It was convenient, cheap and close to home. I probably would have left him there had his issues not gotten out of hand because they were a small school with small-ish classes of 20 kids.
    Having said that, I do prefer a school that is non-religious. As far as I’m concerned, Christianity starts in the home and as you saw last year, there are different “brands” of Christianity. Some of them do Halloween etc and some do not. I wouldn’t let the Christianity thing be a selling point for me.
    It does make sense to let the Child attend the school where they will be going in Grade 1. With Joshua we didn't do this but it was fine - he's an extrovert and made at least 4 proper friends on the first day. With Joel that would DEFINITELY not have worked.

  8. You've seen the name of where I live all the schools are hoerskool, naskool, laarskool (pardon my spelling, I'm certain it's wrong) so except I want to raise a child that doesn't understand the language I speak I have no choice but to go private. If I lived in an area with good English language govt school then I might consider it. Also growing up where I did, with no good govt schools the only option is private. And btw depending on where you live in this province you have to register the minute you know you are pregnant (I'm exaggerating, but seriously if you don't register before they turn one you are too late) for some private school and even then the waiting list is ridiculous plus you pay astronomically riduculous non-refundable deposit. So you would definitely be too late.

    My family and friends in the us consider school district before buying or renting a house and I've seen it's a key criterium in canada as well (I learnt this from my love for home shows)
    My take on school is you have to decide what works best for your babies irrespective of what other people think.

  9. Kids can go to kindergarten at 5 here, but I think we're going to be having the twins go to a year of preschool next year instead first. I don't think they're ready. But they have to go somewhere, they're DRIVING ME NUTS lately LOL

  10. I'm afraid to write a comment that is going to look like a blog post but here goes.. Afraid to say yes I would move house for a good school. We can't afford private schooling, and the government schools in my area are not good. So I've been forced to look outside of our area. Currently the school I am looking at is 6kms from work. Which means its 15 kms from home. The zoning rule no longer applies to public schools.. however, they are obligated to first cater for kids in their cachement area, and IF there is still space (highly unlikely though) they cannot turn you away just because you live outside of the zone.
    As you know, Liam is doing Grade R now - but he is a young Grade R. So next year I will enroll him in grade R AGAIN in the school where he will go through to Grade 1 because I do believe it helps firstly with the adjustment to "big school" because Grade R is on the big school premises versus at your local nursery school.. and also you move up with your peers the following year. I do believe there are pros and cons to both private and public. But I ALSO believe the MAIN thing, especially if you're going public, is parent involvement. Yes, I do. The only way I can ensure that my kid doesn't fall through the cracks, and is getting the attention he deserves in a crowded government school class (28 kids is crowded in my view) is if I am on that teacher's back and if I am spending that time with schoolwork outside of the classroom (or hiring someone to tutor) and making sure my kid stays abreast. It's easy for a little face to fade into the background amidst 28 kids. EASY. But funny story from my sister who used to teach grade 1 up until last year, the kid who's parent is always there, always asking questions, always trying to help the kid - even to the point of irritation for the teacher - is the kid who gets the most attention.. mainly to shut the parent up. Haha! So I intend to be that parent.
    My own problem now is that the school I'd like to send Liam to has a privately run Grade R and THOSE fees are basically private school fees PLUS aftercare fees! At the moment I am spending over R5000 on fees for both kids, but at least that's all day, all meals. His Grade R next year (if he is accepted) is half day and no food and it costs more! But I think we will need to make that sacrifice to ensure he gets into that Grade 1 class in 2016. I think the foundation phase is important. Probably THE most important in my opinion. So I have had SLEEPLESS nights over this, I'm telling you! Listening to Laura.. I will have to do two school runs next year too if Liam gets accepted! GREAT!

  11. Hi, my girls are about a year younger than your children and we live in the same area- I recognised the school. I'd love to know more of your thoughts on it. We were almost 100% sure of our school choice (sacred heart- not too elitist, strong struggle history + love their ethos) when some people mentioned the above school as a good choice. 28:1 is a large ratio for little ones though and peers can play a pivotal role in shaping our children. Also I think the teacher-child relationship is the most important aspect in making schooling a fun, positive experience. SUCH a difficult choice. Ps saw your beautiful children at swimming yesterday.

  12. I think private school does make a difference, you can usually tell when someone has attended private school versus government school. If I had children I'd send them to a private school, saying that I know many people who went to government schools who are awesome, intelligent and very successful......

    I went to two private catholic schools from Grade one to Grade 7 and then a private anglican school until matric. The interesting thing is, when you say pre 1994 everyone went to school with kids who looked like them, having gone to private school this was not the case for me and I was lucky to have black, coloured and indian friends all my life, in fact....... in 1991 whites were the minority in my particular class, how's that :p I'm sooooo happy about that, when I talk to white people that didn't go to mixed schools they kinda irritate me sometimes, they are definitely different, thank god for my awesome parents.


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