Starting school is a big step in any child’s life. It’s pretty big for their parents too. Our eldest has been ready for big school for quite a while. I, on the other hand, have been absolutely dreading it. To me, it means the end of our girlie days together, doing what we want when we want. I’m dreading being tied to school holidays or weekends for the freedom to do as we fancy.
Starting school has another dimension of stress for working parents. The logistics of pick ups and drop offs during those first few weeks can be a nightmare. The school little Miss goes to doesn’t have a nursery attached. The headteacher said that this means it isn’t logistically possible for all children to start full days straight away. The staff don’t know the kids and the kids don’t know each other. Therefore, everyone needs to be gradually introduced.
Whatever the reason, it creates a nightmare if you work. The first week of school was three afternoons for an hour and a half. Not even enough time to go home and have a relaxing cuppa before it was time to go back and collect again. Week two was five mornings for two and a half hours. This really confused our daughter because the week before she went to school after lunch. She didn’t want to go after breakfast as that meant we couldn’t go to the park first.
We’re currently in week three which is full days less 10 minutes at the start and end of the day. Next week is finally full days. Although our daughter has struggled with drop offs, I think she would have been better starting off with full days more or less straight away.
Several of my friends children go to the same school, so I knew well in advance that the introduction was going to be long. We were also expecting our daughter to struggle with the change to start off with.
She struggled for a long time with drop offs at nursery. Every time she moved classes, she got upset again. There have been many mornings when I’ve driven to work in tears because of how upset she was when I left her. It’s really hard to get your head into work mode when you’re worrying about your child.
Time off work
So, I decided early this year that I needed to not be at work for September. My plan to win the lottery didn’t happen so I’ve ended up taking leave. Two weeks is paid, two weeks is unpaid special leave.
I know that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do this. A lot of employers wouldn’t entertain a member of staff being off work for a month. I’m a civil servant and although I don’t say it often, in situations like this, I’m glad that I am. Generally, they’re good at flexible working and leave. Unfortunately though, there isn’t a specific part of our leave policy that covers children starting school.
I’m so, so glad I applied for the leave. Taking our daughter to school every day has been amazing. The walk is only about 10 minutes but takes us on a route she’d never been before. It’s been such a privilege seeing her discover new things on our walks to and from school.
It’s meant she’s had consistency and I think that’s been vital in her settling in as well as she has. There have been tears (hers and mine), but no-where near as many as we were excepting. At nursery, the staff often had to peel her off me so I could leave. We haven’t had anything like that. I know she’s older and better able to control her emotions. I also know I couldn’t have dealt with work and worrying about how she was coping.
Apart from the first day, most of the adults in the school yard have been grandparents. I’ve overheard quite a few conversations from parents saying they had no leave left to take and how stressful it’s been sorting out drop offs and collections.
Seeing so few parents in the yard is very sad. Starting school is such a crucial time in a child’s life. Most employers have policies for maternity / paternity / adoption leave. I bet very few have policies covering starting school.
The length of introduction to school varies widely from a couple of days to weeks, but it only happens once in a child’s life. Allowing parents to work flexibly for those first few weeks would be massive. It makes for a happier member of staff and a less stressful start to school life for the child.
Flexible working in general is on everyone’s radar at the minute thanks to high visibility campaigns like flex appeal. Hopefully by the time our youngest starts school, it’ll be easier for parents to work flexibly during those crucial first few weeks.
How to choose a school
Knowing what to look for in a school can be difficult. We were lucky because so many of my friends children went to the school we wanted our daughters to go to. They all rated it highly so we trusted their opinions and didn’t look at any other schools.
The next big thing in terms of school will be to look for a secondary school for our girls. We’re not at that stage yet, but it helps to know what kinds of things to look for so we’re prepared when the time comes. If you want some tips about what to look for in a secondary school, this post from Claire Mac is a great place to start.