I’d rather poke my own eyes out, than look around another secondary school for my daughter. I’d prefer to get her frozen in time and keep her just how she is. I’d freeze her in a beautiful bedroom, that has been decorated by artists. Stars on the ceiling that emulate the universe in light, movement and colour, ever-changing. I’ll open the door occasionally and look at her wrapped up in imagination and innocence.
I’m still designing that bedroom when standing at the edge of the grey school playground, in the September drizzle. Teeth sinking into the inside flesh of my cheeks. My brain cries out, ‘I do not care if your kid has crisps, or if that kid eats organic f**king fruit.’ On the outside I’m all smiles and reassuring murmurs, of ‘Don’t worry, SATS will be fine. You will get your child into a good school.’
Me I just want to feel things, create words, share art, talk with friends, drink red wine all night and get naked outside in the rain. That’s not something I feel I should bring up at PTFA. Or a question I could ask a prospective teacher about. What questions do I ask, to chisel past the fixed grins, or manipulated statistics? I do not know but I am a mother who cares, sometimes it seems, about the wrong things. I do not want a head teacher to go on about Ofsted I want to know, who will listen to her when she cries. Will anyone care if she’s sick?
I don’t want my daughter to be constrained in a blazer, or locked into an institutional regime for the next five or possibly seven years. I tour secondary school, after secondary school trying to feel something. My daughter asked me yesterday, who ran the school she likes the look of. Who are the leaders? The head? Deputy head? They are all white men, I reply. She raised her voice at me and aimed her eyes at the sky and cried, ‘Where are my female leaders? I need to see strong females in my life.’ These are the questions I want to address, standing in the school playground. Not whose kid has measured up to some arbitrary numbers, made up by the remnants of the industrial revolution. Scoring in league tables that mean nothing to me.
I do not want to send my child off for five days a week, I don’t subscribe to that system. Working five days a week does not support good mental health, well-being, or the work-life balance. I know there will people reading this who say, home-educate then. I did for four years, it was an empowering choice to make and vital to our development as a family. The message I have striven to embed in my children is that they have the power to change their lives. They can make choices that make a difference. Right now they have chosen to be at school. I do not lie to my children about the legal requirements of their education. They understand the facts. By going to school, the state is legally taking responsibility for their education. They know I am happy to sign them out of there and gain education from a different path if they choose.
As a woman and a mother I claim my right as an individual, in a country of free speech to have an opinion. I do not like the choices in front of me.
I have fought for the right for flexi-schooling and won. After four years of researching and exercising my rights, I gained the paperwork that claimed to grant us the freedom to go to school when we wanted. I discovered that the school culture and prejudice woven into language does not allow difference to stretch as far as attendance. Although I had permission on paper the institutionalised culture meant my child was fed with constant reminders that he wasn’t fitting in because of the choices we made.
I’m tired of conforming to a system that does not fit me. I’m questioning myself. Have I forgotten how to rage? There’s no fight in me no more.
Taking a moment to breathe, I remind myself, this is not my fight. I remind myself that my children chose to go to school and I as a freelance artist, I carve my career with my own bare hands.
Don’t think you know me, when I stand at the school gates. I do not tread here lightly.