Deciding where to send your child to school in London depends on whether you want him to be buggered by a boy with a holiday home or knifed by one with an ASBO.
Of course, this is grossly unfair.
In the main, it applies to secondary schools.
Primary schools are a different kettle of fish altogether.
They come in five flavours: Private, Church, State (Good), State (Bad) and Other.
Private schools are members’ clubs with homework.
Their admissions claim to revolve around absurd lists composed of double-barrelled names, scratched by mothers staggering out of chauffeured Rolls, clutching their c-section scars.
In reality, it’s a ‘yes’ to 3 very simple questions:
1. Are you a banker? (Not the rhyming slang one, although come to think of it…)
2. Are you German, American or Aristocratic Indigenous?
3. Will you contribute something ostentatious for the school auction? If not, will you bid ostentatiously for something at the school auction?*
*There is a fourth option here, which is, Will you allow yourself to be the thing other people bid ostentatiously for at the school auction?, otherwise known as working at your child’s private school, in order to reduce the fees. You can offer to cook a meal or do the ironing for a week or agree to be gracious when the other parents patronise you at the school play.
Once in possession of the golden entry ticket, these little mites tumble out of their 1000 thread-count sheets and pour themselves into uniforms so stiff with quality, they can barely stand straight enough to hold their leather briefcase off the ground.
Then onwards to the porch of their period-building school, where they must thrust a serious paw into that of the waiting Headteacher, inquiring politely how the FTSE is faring, before giving an update on the progress of their parents’ property portfolio in Mauritius.
On Mondays they do rare Mongolian wood carving. On Tuesdays they study form at Ascot. On Wednesday they try to identify the most expensive wine, from a tasting menu. On Thursday they try to identify their parents, from photographs.
And on Fridays they have Third World Studies, where a child from a neighbouring estate is brought into the classroom and asked questions about how he copes with staying in London for the whole of August.
Church schools are State schools with a God filter, to keep the riff-raff out.
They teach their charges to share and forgive and build an affection for the hymns they will have at their weddings 30 years later, leaving the messy gay bishop issues for a later date.
Muscling into the Believers nest are an ungainly breed of nervous middle-class cuckoos, squeezed between the private schools that were once their birthright and the abominable state schools they believe their cleaners’ children attend.
Generally, they discover God when their child is 3, having been ‘living abroad’ beforehand or trapped under a heavy object. They drift piously into pews, professing a religious fervour Jesus would have given his right arm for, offering little Tobias to Sunday school, like a dutiful Amish man relinquishing his daughter to be wife number 9.
It would be un-Christian to say that this phenomenon had not gone un-noticed by the vicar. That he wields his power like Boris Johnson with an out-sized Olympic Games flag. That he secures coffee dates with desperate, fragrant mothers, assessing the number and nature of favours they are willing to undertake to save the souls of their off-spring.
So if I did say this, would that make my son eligible for one of the two ‘World Faith’ places you offer in reception? In theory? Just asking.
Good state schools are private schools you pay your mortgage lender for, instead of the school.
Steering an institution which educates children, with good results, and at no cost, makes the Headteacher a man certain of his position in the karmic system, prone to smiling at NHS consultants with a look that says, ‘I too, will be coming back as a lottery winner.’
Any more driven and he’d have to skip assembly to go for a car-wash.
Grateful parents off-load trucks of the brand whose marketing departments they run to raise funds at the school fair, which will help maintain the school’s reputation and ensure their moral and financial smuggery over fee-paying friends.
Amongst their peers will be at least two celebrity parents, keeping it real.
One will be a high-profile politician insisting that they sincerely wanted to send their child to a rubbish school but they just happen to live in Kensington and Chelsea, and there was no alternative.
The other- an actor, who gets steady work from the BBC- will be pushed to the front to do the local rounds, begging small businesses for sponsorship, convincingly playing the role of any ordinary parent who feels serious about state education.
Clever, yet streetwise, children who leave these schools are thought to be the best equipped to deal with contemporary society, learning skills that one day will enable them to trample on the underclasses of society, without seeming like insufferable out-of-touch snobs:
‘Are you going to %$£ing shut up, innit?’
‘Safe, man, but check those split infinitives.’
Bad state schools are youth detention centres, given Government funding.
Their job is to contain and re-habilitate, where possible, seeking to prevent the building from arson attempts, and classroom visitors from sustaining any permanent injuries.
Children use yard time to skull bottles of Pepsi and lob stones over the school gates at passers-by, while class-time sees the planning of petty crimes for the rest of the week, which they plan to take as holiday.
Unless, that is, they can find a kid to refuse to remove his turban in P.E., in which case a teachers’ union strike will save them the trouble.
By the end of term half the parents will be waving placards about unacceptable standards at the entrance, while the other half will be sneaking back in with fresh supplies of stones.
Whether they rise to the top and gain a scholarship to a poncy school (flicking two fingers at at their privileged peers on arrival) or remain illiterate (save for the spelling of certain pharmaceuticals) these children will emerge tougher than their school dinners’ meatloaf.
Other schools are novelty joke shops which sort of try to follow a kind of national curriculum-like thingamejig.
Populated by the offspring of deeply individual, anti-establishment parents, who universally loathed their own school experiences, they revolve around a theme that has absolutely nothing to do with the traditional acquisition of knowledge, as defined in a dictionary.
Whether Steiner, Woodland, Buddhist or Home-Schooling, their supporters see children as individuals with rights and freedoms, likely to despise scratchy uniforms, turgid times tables and evil teachers, as much as they did.
Classes are taught English literature by roaming through forests, calling to birds in visceral trance-like states, before heading back to the school tee-pee and sharing the organic squash they communally planted last full moon.
If a prospective parent asks where the school feeds into for secondary education, the teachers-who-are-friends smile patiently and lead them into the garden to lay a hand on a stone and try to understand that nothing is permanent and we are all one with each other.
That said, in view of the fact that wherever he beetles around in his uniform, on his 11th birthday your child will announce his intention to win Pop idol, academic questions are academic.
So a parent really only has one responsibility to their progeny: to ensure that these are not the best days of their lives.