I went to an all girls London private school in the 1970's. Although I was happy there, I was conscious of a suffocating monoculture that came from a school populated almost entirely by white girls from wealthy backgrounds. It was no surprise that when I entered the 'real world', I was ill prepared. I didn't want that for my own children.
I have three children, two daughters and a son. The two girls have now left secondary school. One is at Sussex University and the other in her gap year, my son is still at the local secondary school – Queens Park Community School (QPCS) in Brent. My eldest daughter went to St Marylebone Church of England School which seems to be the state schools of choice for many parents of daughters round where I live. It is not local, but only half an hour’s tube ride away. Journalist Rosie Millard describes the school as one of the “cream of London’s schools, state or private, and number two in the league table for Westminster. It’s an ambitious, focused comprehensive with banded academic admissions, a tight catchment area and significant church orientation “. In other words if your child hasn’t been to certain specified C of E primary schools, then you almost certainly won’t get in unless you apply through the performing arts scholarship route. Competition for these places is fierce.
My second daughter didn’t get in. At the time I was disappointed but my husband – a staunch supporter of local schools was not. This was his opportunity to have a child educated at the local state comprehensive. Our second daughter has now just left QPCS with three A’levels and I can honestly say that not getting into St Marylebone was a blessing in disguise - for her and for us. The local school provides community in a way that St Marylebone never did or could. It also provides an opportunity to grow up around people who are not like you – something St Marylebone (being an all girls school until 6th form) simply cannot do. Watching my second daughter grow up around the same group of close friends from the age of three - being able to walk to each others’ houses, hang out in the park, not have long travel journeys, always know that she wasn’t far away – undoubtedly has given her a strong sense of security and community from a very young age.
The school isn’t perfect (what school is!) but has some superb and dedicated teachers. I confess to being slightly amused that my daughter has come out of the local secondary school (which many middle-class parents still stay away from) with as good, and mostly better, A ‘level grades than the majority of my friends’ children who have been privately educated.