Too Cool for School

Clemmie in pink hat

{Ready for school?}

One of the interesting things about living in a different country to the one where you were born and spent your early years, is that it gives you a great platform for comparison. For instance, in my view, people in England are more tolerant and prepared to poke fun at themselves than their Swedish counterparts. On the other hand Sweden has cleaner air and more green spaces and things like public transport tend to run more efficiently. I could go on and on, but the purpose of this post is to talk about one difference between the two nations and that is how the education system works. In Sweden the school intake is determined by the calendar year a child was born in, from January onwards. As I was born in October I was one of the youngest in my year, not one of the oldest as I would have been here in the UK where the reception class intake includes all children who turn four before September 1 of that school year. However, the big difference is that I started school just before my seventh birthday, not just after my fourth birthday as my daughter is expected to do this coming September. I should point out that the system in Sweden has changed slightly since I lived there and children now start in Year 0 (equivalent to Reception) the year that they turn six (although it is not statutory schooling at this stage and parents do not have to apply for permission if they want to take their kids out of school for holidays etc)

In the last year I have had major reservations about my daughter starting school so young. With my boys it was never really an issue as they were born in late October and early November respectively and were almost five when they started in Reception. It seems almost absurd that my daughter and her cousin, who lives in Sweden and is only six months younger, will be three school years apart. As my sister’s daughter is born in January she will be six and a half when she starts school in 2017, the same year that Clemmie moves up to year 3 at the Junior School, having already completed three years at infant school!

Despite being a third child, Clemmie seems younger than her brothers did at the same age. Careful and shy until she gets to know people, she finds new situations like birthday parties incredibly daunting, preferring to sit close to me rather than joining in. On a more personal level, I really feel like I am making great headway in bringing her up to be bilingual and I know that as soon as she starts school, English will start to take over as she will be expected to ‘read’ books and do homework pretty much from the start.

I have looked into other options, such as enrolling her at the American school that I went to as their formal education starts later, but with two other school age children, logistically speaking it is just not possible. In Ireland, parents of children born between May-August can decide if they want their child to start school just after their fourth or fifth birthday. It seems that England is slowly moving in the same direction and after reading this article on the BBC News site I thought it was worth asking about the possibility of deferring Clemmie’s school place for another year. This afternoon I met with the head teacher at the local school and spoke to her about my concerns. She has promised to check the rules for deferment requests with the council and get back to me next week. I know it is only a very slim possibility but if there is any way that I can keep her in preschool and at home with me for a year longer I will definitely take it.

Part of me does wonder if I only feel like this because I know that, for us, living in another country with a different approach to early years education is not a far-flung fantasy but an option that we could easily have chosen. The majority of the people around me seem pretty happy to accept the status quo but whether that is because they are actually happy about it or because they have never been presented with any other viable alternatives is another question.