IT was Dougie who brought me The Letter. Our second son, proffering the manilla envelope with a Northampton School for Boys franking mark. His school.
With just a week left before the summer holidays, he wondered if he was in trouble.
As previously detailed in these columns, we have three sons in three different schools around Northampton.
Our first-born, Jed, didn’t get his first choice of the ridiculously oversubscribed school for boys, and has attended Malcolm Arnold Academy-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity for the past two years.
Much to our surprise, Dougie, a year younger, did get into NSB, where he has spent the first year of his secondary education happily knee-deep in sport, more sport, testosterone and sport.
Meanwhile seven-year-old Billy is endeavouring to make his own mark, noisily, at the large urban primary school his two brothers attended before him.
Back to the letter: it wasn’t about Dougie – it was about Jed. It was offering him a Year 9 place at NSB to start in September as two boys in his age group have left.
To say it’s come as a shock is an understatement. We’d applied two years ago, and along with hundreds of other parents, had failed to get a place. We’d appealed, and while 11 appeals had been successful, ours hadn’t.
We were told we could join a waiting list, but warned that the likelihood a place coming up was very remote. Indeed we reasoned that having been forced to take 11 more pupils in than they wanted, the chances of a place becoming available was about as likely as Jeremy Clarkson buying an electric car and joining the Green Party.
Stubbornly, I put him on the waiting list anyway.
And then last week The Letter arrived.
Jed was understandably conflicted. Having settled well at MAA, made friends, worked out which teachers he liked, been given opportunities to tour the Olympic Park, have lunch with Boris Johnson, act as a mock lawyer in a real magistrates court, play bass guitar, argue politics with Tory sponsor David Ross and talk on the radio about his experiences of the new academy, he was now going to have to decide if he wanted to leave, at age 13. We told him to sleep on it.
It was Dougie who volunteered the first advice. Dougie, 12, who has spent his entire life being known as ‘Jed’s brother,’ who was pleased to be at NSB without his older sibling.
“You should take it,” he said. “Think of the sport. Think how mad you get when you can’t do the sport you want at MA. . . Plus I want everyone to refer to you as ‘Dougie’s brother.’”
We discussed the pros and cons of each school. And although he was grateful for those friends and teachers who’d encouraged him at MA, and would certainly miss having girls around, he was resolute: NSB had been his first choice school.
Their facilities, like it or not, are amazing and the standard of teaching is proven. The range of subjects offered at GCSE is wider and the discipline strict. We agreed that while we felt disloyal, MA still needed a few more years to settle and that NSB could simply offer Jed more now.
I have spent the last week feeling guilty at our luck. I’ve so many friends whose sons also didn’t get in, and have spent hours, and plenty of column inches, raging about the unfairness of NSBs refusal to have a catchment area. I still stand by that opinion. If fewer boys were being bused in from Bedford, Brackley, Oundle and upmarket villages, there would be more places for boys who actually live in and around Northampton. It is, after all, NORTHAMPTON School for Boys.
Ultimately, however much we want all schools to have the same facilities as NSB, making ‘parental choice’ a redundant concept, they don’t.
We don’t even know if we’ve done the right thing. You take the best chances you can for your children and hope it all works out in the end.
One thing I will miss though: Malcolm Arnold’s uniform is far nicer than NSB’s.