It is a truth universally acknowledged that a middle-class mother in possession of daughters must be in want of a school. Or at least an expat middle-class mother who is utterly horrified at the level of education on offer where she lives. Next week the girls and I set off from Abu Dhabi to England for interviews and exams at various public schools.
Having been turned down out of hand by the school their half sister went to on the basis of an exam they took (I even told said school they would fail it), I figured the only way to get them in is for them to actually meet the people who make the decisions and hope they spot the potential in them.
I also need to show them the benefits of an English school, because they are less than convinced that it is the right move for them. Let’s face it, why would they want to go anywhere. Here they start school early (7.30) but by 2.30 they are finished for the day, and they rarely have homework. So instead of doing prep or careering across a frozen lacrosse pitch they are in their rooms, on their laptops. Which might seem like a nice thing to do, but will of course eventually turn their brains to mush and they will be no use to anyone.
I am also aware that being a teenager in a place where drinking and relations with the opposite sex are illegal may not be ideal. I was brought up in Sweden where both are practically obligatory.
When I was about 15 I had a male friend to stay. In the morning, my mother came into my bedroom to ask if I’d like a cup of tea. The boy had by then left.
“No thanks,” I said.
She was about to shut the door, then poked her head around again. “Did you lose your virginity?” she asked, as casually as if she were asking what time I was going to get up.
“NO!” I yelled, utterly horrified. I was an extremely conservative teenager, and my virginity was not even up for discussion, least of all with my mother.
“Oh,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “Why not?”
But the main reason I would like the girls to go to an English school is that I really don’t feel here they’re getting as much out of life here as they could be doing. They’re just not INTERESTED in anything. Nothing seems to have captured their imagination. Not art, nor drama, nor sport. OK so Bea is a fanatical Chelsea fan, which is commendable, but I would like it if they actually did something and excelled at it.
Of course some of that is down to them, but I also believe children need inspiring, and they need exciting role models to show them the way. I can tell them to read a book a thousand times, but coming from me, their natural instinct is to ignore it. The other day Rupert asked Bea what book she was reading. “Facebook,” she replied in all seriousness.
Time to move on girls…..
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2013
Helena, this is a common concern of so many parents in the UAE. You are most definitely doing the right thing by sending the girls to board the UK, and several of my own friends have done this with their children in recent years. Perhaps be prepared for the dreadful sense of “empty nest” that is going to hit you once they’ve gone (though, of course, you’ll still have Leo), and also guilt (“ohmygod, they think I’ve sent them away because I don’t love them”), which may be stronger if the girls are not overly keen on the idea in the first place. But they will return more rounded individuals with a broader range of interests, and more street-wise too for having been in the UK, and this will prepare them well for uni. Finally, although best not to mention this bit to the girls, they’ll receive a far better education for about the same or even less cost to you financially. Even quite well known public schools in Britain charge less than some of the mediocre secondaries in Dubai. The rip-off that is education in this country needs to be exposed ….
Thanks so much for this, makes me feel better. I agree on the scandal of expensive education here, Olivia scored less than five per cent in her maths exam for the school that they did the exam for. So I paid 750 pounds registration fee to discover just how bad things are. Have since spent a small fortune on tutors in preparation of our trip…sadly I will not have Leo (sob) he leaves even earlier, starts prep school in April, it is the right thing for him and his football (which he is taking very seriously and he is showing huge promise) but I think we may have to move house so I don’t spend my entire time wandering into their empty bedrooms weeping…x
you are extremely brave, -it is definetely a very good decision for the children, to spend their school career in UK, but so hard for you! We do not have the same boarding-school culture in Germany as I know there is in England and I can’t think of the kids to live apart. But I imagine you travelling a lot to see the children and not to be away from your husband too long and I imagine you to make the best of the situation for everybody. The little advantage I see for myself is, that you may have some more time to write the next book…! All the best to you!
Thanks Stephanie, went to Bedales today, we all totally loved it, fingers crossed xx
Hi Helena – thought that looked like Bedales library. Third daughter went there and loved it. She didn’t have to take common entrance – just a sort of 3 day long overview in various situations – Im sure yours will get in. We have lived all over the place and international schools generally pretty craperooney in my opinion – I suppose they just don’t have the choice of staff wanting to work in foreign climes. I have 7 children and the last 2 went to the Dragon – its a total killer once they have all gone though – be warned! Our current posting is Monaco and those blue skies just don’t make up for it.
Helena, coincidentally, today’s Poll in The National!!!
Do you feel that your child needs tutoring to plug knowledge gaps in the UAE education system?
Yes – My child needs a boost in certain areas of the curriculum No – The education system is covering all aspects of the curriculum
Two of my best friends went to Bedales (many years ago!!!), both loved it. Bright, balanced, well rounded individuals, both with now have great jobs and beautiful families.
Ha! Great swathes rather than gaps….one awful moment when Olivia was asked in one of the interviews when the world wars were…sigh. We are waiting to hear, loved Bedales x
Helena, I have just stumbled across your website after reading your article in the Times. I was actually catching up with the Thatcher commentary and opinions. I am a fan of Sathnam Sanghera who wrote an article last week. Anyway, we live in Abu Dhabi after moving here from suburban, leafy Ealing where there are great private schools. My daughter was at NHEHS for five years. Very academic. So I breathed a sigh of relief when I read your comments on the schooling here. Mia is at the school which everyone wants to get into. The British one. I don’t want to mention any names. Anyway, I must say I am underwhelmed. No one actually says that the schools are not very academically challenging. I thought it was a conspiracy at first. Was it just me that thought they were a bit rubbish? Was I being a bit precious? I am teacher by the way and I can tell you Mia has made very little progress if any, in fact I have just had to hire a Maths tutor. So reading this today has reassured me. Anyway, I am rambling, but I totally support you sending your girls back home to be educated. You are doing the right thing. I hope to send Mia back in Year 9. Anyway, I am glad I found your blog and I hope to follow it. Keep blogging about this! All the best.