We have 3 children. The oldest is 23 and now making her way in the world in London, having graduated in the summer. The next is 21, and she has just started a degree in acting. The youngest is 17 this month and is now at college, having taken his GCSEs this summer. They all attended Chorlton High School, our local comprehensive.
For a time it didn't look like this would happen. When our oldest was in year 5, transition panic was rife amongst the parents of her peer group. Chorlton borders Trafford Local Authority, which still operates the 11+, and Stretford Grammar School is less than a mile away. Some families were moving to Hale and Altrincham to ensure access to Altrincham Grammar. Oakwood, as our local comp was then known, was being talked about as the least desirable option. Although me and my wife were both peripatetic support teachers with the local authority and we had worked in, and liked, the school, we found ourselves caught up in the atmosphere of scare and doubt. If we spoke up for the school we'd be shot down with stories about bullying and poor results. This pressure, combined with the distinct possibility of our daughter's peer group all going elsewhere, led to us questioning our own judgement, and we started to look more at the other options.
We went to estate agents in Hale. The kids asked why and, when we told them, made it clear that they did not want to move.
We offered our daughter the option of taking the 11+. She decided she would, mainly for the reason that all of her friends were doing it.
We went to the transition open evenings at the Grammar School and at Oakwood. Oakwood was fantastic - interactive taster lessons for parents and children, enthusiastic and knowledgable teachers, slightly dog-eared buildings but so full of life. The Grammar School was well-resourced, with teacher led tours. When my daughter asked a question, the teacher directed his answer at me. We didn't feel engaged, or wanted. After that experience I knew that I wanted her to go to Oakwood. We agreed that we would leave the choice open, and consider her social and emotional needs as much as the academic. As teachers ourselves, we wanted her to have a happy and fulfilled school life, and we knew that if she had that then she would achieve, whichever school she chose.
She sat the 11+ with her friends, and passed. She then chose Oakwood, even though they opted for the Grammar. She was anxious because she didn't have the security of a friendship group going with her, but she said that after the open evenings she'd always pictured herself in an Oakwood uniform.
From September 1999 to July 2011 we always had at least 1 child in the school. It's in a new building now, with a new name (chosen by the school community after a ballot). The ethos has been consistent throughout that time - motivated and engaging staff, a truly comprehensive intake, an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. We've had times where things haven't been straightforward. Our oldest daughter was threatened on her 2nd day by another girl who tried to start a fight with her after school. Staff handled it brilliantly, and a situation which could have confirmed all of the horror stories that other parents had told us actually ended with her feeling safer and more confident in school.
Our 3 all did brilliantly at Chorlton High School. They got great results, but they are also streetwise, compassionate, empathic and thoughtful young people. They are aware of privilege, and community and fairness. They have values. Some of that is down to us as parents, but the partnership we've enjoyed with a truly comprehensive school has been vital to their development.