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Uloma Ezirim’s Diaspora Chronicles: Finding the Right School For Your Child

Uloma Ezirim

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Migrating anywhere is not easy. It is even more challenging when you’re constrained by the absence of the educational or professional requirements for the place you’re moving to. The challenge of settling in – with or without family- always seems like a daunting feat. BellaNaija Contributor, Uloma Ezirim, has decided to share a 3-part series called Diaspora Chronicles. In this honest and refreshing segment, she shares some of her experiences since she moved to the UK. Read Part I HERE

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State, Grammar or Private? For every forward thinking parent in the UK with a 9 year old child, that is a familiar question.
So I live in a nice-ish neighbourhood in Greater London and my child is 9 – already attending a state primary school. For us, private school was not an option as we could not afford it. However, I feel confident that I am making the right choices for my child – as they are attending a “2” school.

In the UK, all schools are regulated and inspected for effectiveness by Ofsted (Office for standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). After each inspection exercise, schools are rated 1-4. Where 1 is Outstanding, 2 is good, 3 is requires improvement and 4 is inadequate.

Soon my comfort zone would be rocked as some vital information became apparent.

In the first term of year 4, my child informed me that 3 pupils had left the school because they were preparing for secondary school. Running errands on a Saturday, I encountered a group of pupils filing out of what was called an 11+ preparation centre.

On investigating further, I realised that there is an option out there that other parents are exploring for secondary school other than state schools. That option is what is called the grammar school. To get in, my child had to pass the 11+ exam which was due in 2 years.

Some parents have been preparing for this exam since their children were 7! It was a race against time. Uloma, I thought: “where have you been?” The nearest grammar school in my catchment area was about 60 miles away.

Let me slow down and put things in perspective. For secondary school education in the UK, there are 3 options. Your choice will probably be dependent on the outcome that you are seeking.

Stats are as below:

State Schools
Attended by majority of UK children and are government-funded. Performance of state schools vary from year to year, published school league tables confirm their status at each time.

Grammar Schools
They are also government-funded but only children who pass their entrance exams by 80% or more can attend. These entrance exams are commonly known as the 11+ and are taken in the first term of year 6 (age 10/11). The exams covers one or more of the following 4 areas: English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal reasoning. Grammar schools are highly selective with a strong emphasis on academic achievement and they are usually at the top of the national school league tables.

Private schools are not government-funded. Although some do give bursaries and scholarships to a select number of students each year. In private schools, class sizes are smaller, children are more confident, driven and have access to a greater range of extra-curricular activities. Some say in these schools, mixing with affluent families builds contacts and improves their chances of getting better jobs.

The burning question now was how to get my child to attend a grammar school. They are presumed to be the next best thing to a private school and most times even better. League tables have shown that the recent attainment of grammar schools at GCSE’s, A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate had far exceeded that of some private schools.

My thinking cap was well on at this stage. I needed, a new home, new job, new school and in that order. I needed to move to a town that would tick all the boxes. I chose Kent for two main reasons. They have a whopping 37 grammar schools, and my sister was already living there.

Now, one of the influencing factors for house prices is schools but we were lucky enough to afford a house close enough to 6 grammar schools.

I also got a job in London about 45 minutes from home. So in 2.5 months, we sold up, packed up and moved up like “a thief in the night”. I had no time to say goodbye to friends. After all they don’t call me the “the hustler” for nothing.

My child got into a “1” primary school in Kent and battled with being at the top. She did not feel so brainy anymore, but in a couple of months she took her rightful position.
Thereafter, it was one tuition class after the other, online practice tests, practise test centres, mentorship and prayers. About 2000 pupils applied to our choice of grammar and she was one of the 170 that got in.

A familiar story for many I hear you say. This accomplishment remains one of my greatest yet.

This write-up will irk some particularly as it is a controversial one. However, please don’t get me wrong, as I am well aware that, a dedicated and gifted child with a strong support system will smash any exam regardless of the choice of school.

For all of you that know this story, that called me and encouraged me, my Abubabes old girls group, my friends, family, God, I say thank you.

Share your stories as always. Thank you for reading.

Photo Credit: Ron Chapple | Dreamstime.com

Uloma is a School Administration Manager. Her mantra in life is Laughter, Love, Relationships = Happiness. Uloma is very passionate about all things Nigerian and this is reflected in her creative expression. Join our community on www.diasporachronicles.com.

21 Comments

  1. Baba

    February 1, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Grammer schools are the best.My first daughter was not interested in Grammer school,we had to do private.My other girl got into Grammer school and i love it.Big school with everything to make a child exceptional.Meanwhile,the private school is just packaging!!Left to me,i would not pay for an education that can be easily accessible with Grammer schools.

    • Yugos

      February 1, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      You couldn’t have said it better @ Baba! Well done

    • Observer

      February 1, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      ‘Grammer ‘?! Na wa o!

  2. Yugos

    February 1, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Hey Uloma, spot on feedback as always. Nice read too. Your write ups are true life and therefore have originality. Keep up the good work. Ur experiences will serve as guide to other 9ja folks.

  3. O'mum

    February 1, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    I’m happy for you.
    Understanding the system here is critical.
    Getting my 3 children into grammar school was not easy but so worth it.

  4. Mum of two

    February 1, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    My experience; Private school for me. From nursery to secondary. Grammar schools are great for academics no doubt, but private schools are great for academics and social skills. Call me a snob, but I would rather have an all rounded child who rubs shoulders with the kids of who is who and sounds like them to boot. That posh accent still trips me, their mother.

    When it gets to Oxbridge selections, getting internships during gap year, getting training contracts after a law degree, that’s when the whole old school tie starts to show its head and academics isn’t enough. Then you realise the Westminster School boy that got 2:1 from Warwick and the North London Collegiate girl that got 2:1 from Oxford are not the same as the Grammar School boy and girl that got the same.

    Look at the cabinet and start counting the private school educated folks. The confidence that private school educated children have, my word you can’t teach it. They are educated to rule the world as their right to. The collective ambition and drive when the majority are products of parents who’ve done very well for themselves or inherited money, you can’t but not want to succeed and you are given the tools to.

    The social contacts cannot be matched. When your school mates start inviting you to their ski chalet in Austria, or their villa in the south of France, and their dad is ambassador to this country or top government minister in that country and CEO of that bank or Fortune 500 company. Or the fact that by the time you are done you have learnt how to speak French, German, Spanish and Mandarin! Yes, 3 extra languages. Tell me how getting a job won’t be a breeze for you. Forget all the English they speak, the uk is still very much a class and nepotism based society. Go to the City, Canary Wharf, the IB crowd, in government etc. The old school tie policy still exists.

    The Nigerian education method is to do well in school be great academically. Having kids in private school has opened my eyes to a world outside of just academics. They play sports, with facilities government schools can only dream of. Their alumni links are very very impressive. I hear my son converse in Mandarin with his best friend from China whose dad is like the governor of one of the biggest banks over there and it brings tears to my eyes sometimes. He wants to do a gap year in Asia. Determinedly so. We go on holiday and the Children take over the conversation with the locals. We just sit there and hope they are not trying to sell us. Lol.

    They have opportunities we never had. Has it been easy for us. No. We’ve made sacrifices like you won’t believe and we’ll do it over and over again, knowing they won’t have to struggle the way that we did. If you can afford it or you can squeeze to afford it, do it. Apply for scholarships if you can. All round, difference is clear. You think of Kate Middleton and know her private education basically bought her that class, nobody remembers she’s technically supposed to be a “commoner”. She fitted seamlessly into his lifestyle because she came from a similar background. This comment was not written to slight anyone. Every parent should do what’s best for their children.

    • Unfortunate but true

      February 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      I have to agree with you. If the child is able to avoid the possible self confidence challenge, he is better off in a private school.

      But the funny thing is that most of these truly rich are not that snobby especially when you can hold your own and are not beggarly.

      Even in Nigeria, there is a difference between children who grew up around certain things and others.

      But then, what matters is that we teach our kids to be confident and that the world is a stage.

  5. Emma

    February 2, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I applaud your choice but do remember that when rich people extend their hands to ‘less wealthy’ children, it can end up being a charitable relationship
    Yes, your kids might be invited to chalets, ski trips etc but is this an equal relationship.
    You talk about the leaders here all being Oxbridge products……..dont forget most are also white.
    No matter h9w much your kids hang around then, they will still be outsiders. They must know their roots and still understand how to navigate racism.
    D9nt let the flash deceive you.
    Water will always find its level

    • Observer

      February 2, 2017 at 10:57 am

      So because they will end up being ‘outsiders’ one shouldn’t send them to the best schools in the land? I hope your self deprecating way of thinking does not rub off onto your kids.

      Regardless, you will meet all kinds of people throughout life rich, poor, average etc. The most important thing is to enjoy this life and get the best out of it no matter what. The UK is classed based, however an ethnic minority who has schooled, worked and associated with the so called rich, still has a huge network to call upon when needed and will have access to great opportunities. Sit down there and be looking for your ‘level’.

    • Emma

      February 2, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Sorry Observer. I actually head a well known education business here and I’m well networked. My first son is actually with a top bank through this network. Dont get your facts twisted….There are other ways to network instead of using your kids as the begging bowl

    • Mum of Two

      February 2, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      It’s that inherent inferiority complex that is common with black people is the exact thing I am making sure my children don’t imbibe, and when fellow black people see you striving for what’s not “the norm” as black, they are quick to remind you to find your “level”, so they can drag you down to theirs.
      I’m not going to apologise for giving my children the best. It’s the same thing Michelle Obama was told. It didn’t matter that she did very well in high school. Applying to Harvard was supposed to be out of her reach because it’s a “white people thing”. People like her, from her background don’t go to Harvard. Even the way she speaks, was considered uppity and pushing beyond her weight. Imagine if she believed them and “found her level”, she wouldn’t have been one of the best if not THE best FLOTUS ever. What about Barrack. Imagine if he believed that black people have to “find their level”, he is an outsider, he wouldn’t have run for President.

      This attitude is one of the many reasons black people don’t aim high and in 2017 we still use words like “first black” to achieve such and such. Drives me nuts that phrase. You tell yourselves you are outsiders and not good enough, meanwhile white children are taught they can go to the freaking moon if they want.

      My children happen to be half white, but that’s not the point because to the world, they will be seen as black, but we are not raising them to think that’s a limit to what they can achieve. We are raising them to know that because some of their friends have more money, or things they don’t have, they are not lesser beings. In this world, someone will always have more money than you, it doesn’t make you inferior to them. Work hard enough with God’s Grace, tomorrow their children would be the ones, inviting their friends to their ski chalets after they have bought us their parents, one. Lol. It has helped them carefully choose their friends too. Who see them as equals and not ranked based on how many zeros daddy has in the bank. So, no thank you, it’s not a charitable relationship. That’s your inferiority complex talking, because friends from school spend vacations with us all the time, sleepovers and holidays. The Arab ones say my Jollof rice can solve the crisis in the Middle East.

      They get invited to ski chalets because they can ski and very well too. I didn’t tell myself, they are black kids. Black people don’t ski. We took them for lessons because they wanted to learn. My daughter is an excellent horse rider with friends whose horses are worth more than our house but it didn’t stop her from learning how to ride. She didn’t think she shouldn’t love horses because we don’t own million pound racing stallions (not yet anyway ?), so it’s out of her reach. Whatever they took interest in, we encouraged and never let them believe they will be seen as not belonging or fitting in because they are black. . Look at Simone Biles and the US gymnastics team. What if they believed gymnastics is a “white people” thing and found their level. Or Venus and Serena Williams.

      There are some friends I had to let go off, who constantly kept putting down the way we raise them. Oh, black people don’t do this or that. Just because their dad is white, they are still black and all their education won’t change that they are half Nigerian. Let them know their place in the world. I can’t have such thinking around my children. They can be anything they want to be and they have friends from all walks of life and not just “rich friends” because we are also raising them to understand that, because they have the education and lifestyle we work hard to pay for, they are not better than people who don’t have what they have. Treat everyone on merit of their character and not what possessions they have. You can’t change the colour of your skin, but it shouldn’t define the reach of your ambitions. Sorry to be preaching this early on a Thursday. I’m enjoying my day off.

    • Observer

      February 2, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      @mum of 2 ????

    • Observer

      February 2, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      @Emma, for someone who heads a ‘well known’ public sector organisation your thinking is still worrisome. Not every white person in a private school is rich nor is every black person there a beggar! You already have a mindset that you have a ‘level’. Pls don’t impart your inferiority complex on the unfortunate kids who will be under you. Shior!

    • Emma

      February 2, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      Ps = ‘education business’ is not the same as ‘public sector organisation’
      I can see education and governance issues are not your strong points. I totally understand now why logic is beyond you and you get so emotional when discussing. Sincere apologies for assuming you were rational

  6. Eva

    February 2, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I work in Government so please permit me to share my 2 cents. Half the top officials here, all schooled at Oxford, Cambridge or any of the other Russel Group Universities. As long as your child is bright enough to get the right grades to get into the right university they will get where they need to be. Networks can also be formed at University or at apprenticeships. Everyone whether private or state or grammar or home-schooled all end in the same universities as the private universities in the UK are practically useless – yes all 5 of them. So don’t get your knickers all twisted, ensure your child has brains firstly in addition to all the other fancy skills.

  7. heeba

    February 2, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I am so happy with this write up I bumped into, I have admission for a state shool, I never knew grammer schools were better! else I would have been preparing and applying for it. Anyway I guess one can still get in year admissions if I am not happy with the state school..
    In between Kent seems the place to be in terms of cheaper living and commute to London for work. I shall be finding a place in kent soonest. thanks

  8. Susie

    February 2, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Well done Ulomsky. If kids get into the right university and right courses then you have been successful at your hustle. It is well with us all

  9. iyawo

    February 2, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    This mum of 2 na wa for you oh. I was initially routing for you but I don port. Michelle was focused on ivy league universities and on how seeming unfortunate people can still hope for the big schools regardless. Doubt she went to a private school. Kate is still referred to as a commoner by the British Press until tomorrow. Please choose your struggle wisely, one minute Michelle, next minute Kate middleton, next horses, next ski trip, all coated in Mandarin. Hope you are not in an ancestral situation and you are trying to feel good by touting this stories of wonder!

  10. Midlands

    February 2, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I live 30 mins from Warwick but I work in Warwick right next to the preparatory/private school which I want my son to attend. I’m also making moves to move to Warwick. So God help me

  11. Uloma Ezirim

    Uloma Ezirim

    February 3, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Thank you for your comments. I knew that this would be controversial but bottom line is that it got us having a conversation. Thanking you all for your views, as everyone counts. Until next month, peace and love.

  12. "changing moniker"

    March 30, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Uloma….
    Your chronicles are sooooo good.
    I am definitely checking your website.

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