We’ve had a solid month of rain here in Kenya – of the like, I’ve never seen before. Roads are more potholed than ever, storm drains flooded, rainfall records for the past ten years have been broken. Each day of November brought with it giant rain storms, threatening black clouds and thunder, or else a drizzling mist of rain all day. So, in this wet weather, with roof leaking and power outages of up to 12 hours per time, my husband and I decided to escape to England for a week, ostensibly to look at secondary schools. It was something I thought we would never get around to doing, but when my parents-in-law (heroically) offered to babysit and we realised we had enough air miles for two return flights, we figured - why not?
So what if we are in the midst of the biggest financial crisis of all time - global upheaval, the euro on the brink, UK parents selling the family silver to afford school feels - to hell with it - why not? (We must be mad)
As you can imagine, there is peer pressure . You may think that sending your kids back to UK is just a British expat thing, but it’s actually also a Kenyan trend to send your kids overseas for the best education that you can afford (UK, the States, Canada, Switzerland). However, you may be asking yourself at this point, why, if we need to scrabble around for air miles to go back to England, do we have the gall to consider UK private schools that cost up to £10,000 a term? It’s a good question.
I think that the 7 schools that we visited were bemused by our ramshackle arrival too. While in Kenya I had made appointments willy nilly in order to make the most of our trip, our appointment schedule kept changing (hang on a minute, which Cheltenham had we booked to see? Cheltenham Ladies or the other one? I wasn’t sure) – admittedly I/we’d not done much research beyond looking at a few websites and borrowing a friend’s copy of ‘The Good Schools Guide’. There were a couple of schools that we really wanted to see, others were schools we were just curious about or happened to be driving past (useful for comparison, I thought).
To add to my woefully bad planning, my husband’s Movember beard that has now become something of a bushy fixture (I keep reminding him that we are in December), joined with the fact that he insisted on wearing what he calls his khaki green ‘protester’s’ coat to all our appointments because frankly, it’s the only coat he’s got - must have combined to make an odd impression. I didn’t do much better. The only waterproof coat I own is a fake leather brown jacket.
The first school we arrived at (direct from Heathrow after a night flight - fuzzy mouthed) was my old school. It was an open day. The other prospective parents were wearing exactly what my mum and dad used to wear back in the day when I was at school – red cords, tweed jackets and/or skirts, Guernsey jumpers. It was like we’d stepped back in time.
I won’t bore you with the details, but all the schools were great. They all had overwhelmingly good facilities - with theatres, indoor pools, sports centres, gyms, stunning historic buildings, extensive grounds - almost everyone had a new science block, half a dozen master’s or teachers per subject (all willing to indulge us with a chat), jolly matrons and lovely students were selected to show us round. I did notice that the girls tended to wear thick foundation and short skirts at co-ed schools, whereas at all-girls schools they didn’t bother, but other than that, they were similarly good.
We returned to a knackered but resilient Granny and Grandad who had clocked up two hours in solid traffic on the return journey of one school run and also managed to put up the Christmas tree - to another weekend of yet more power outages and two out of three of our children ill. My mother-in-law said on a number of occasions; “I’m so glad you’re back!”
More confused than ever, I’m not necessarily convinced that UK schools are worth sending our children to another continent and re-mortgaging the house for.. but I may change my mind as time goes on. At this point, it is hard to imagine our eldest daughter at 13 – although time is already running out. At least the weather has cheered up over the past couple of days. Perhaps it’s a sign?