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St Mary Abbots, Kensington 

The best things in life are free. But a good education in Britain is, in most cases, an exception to the rule. In the struggle to secure a place at an above-average state primary school, the parents' location, location, location is often crucial. However, as many of the best primaries in inner London are denominational, church attendance also counts. 

If you are from the Continent, the idea of struggling for education in a G8 country seems ludicrous. Parents in the rest of Europe  happily send their children to the local primary school and later to the nearest equivalent of a grammar school. When our second son was on his way, we moved from a tiny third-floor flat on the rougher edges of Notting Hill to a hidden mews in the even rougher middle of Bayswater. It was 2004, the housing market was flat and somehow we were able to afford this gem of a house. It was like a bit of southern Italy in the heart of big, grubby London. 

Schooling was then the least of our concerns. The day our eldest son would turn four seemed an eternity away. The social housing estate of Hallfield at the other end of Inverness Terrace had an integrated primary school. Hallfield's inhabitants reflect Britain's imperial heritage. I had grown up in Kenya, where we pupils sat cross-legged on the bare earth. The foundations of knowledge were laid by rote-learning. We repeated the words written on the blackboard after the teacher, who was my mother. Play time and outdoor endeavours, such as tunnel-digging, were important. Every child received an old metal spoon and off we went into the bush. I was the only white face in my class, which was OK in Africa. But was it OK for my sons in London? 

The Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens was our second living room. I started to listen to the other mums there, which is the easiest way to be driven to despair and madness. One little Hugo was three months young and already down for 12 schools. Would Poppy be happier in Pembridge Hall or Faulkner House, one mother wondered (she had opted for a Caesarean to meet the deadline for Pembridge Hall, which Poppy had been "down for" since birth)? Faulkner House offered circus lessons, essential for hand-eye co-ordination. George's mum felt that no school was really up to him — and he was only 15 months old. He had a Chinese nanny, who kept up a relentless stream of Mandarin in order to expand the little boy's brain. You could hear George's synapses screaming. How on earth did Leonardo ever become Leonardo, I wondered.  

I temporarily gave in, even though we couldn't really afford to. I had chosen to end my career as a TV presenter — the glamour of which had waned very fast — and was now a full-time novelist. My husband was building up his own company in healthcare IT. Success came painfully slowly. My boys' names were on the waiting list at both Wetherby's and Hawkston House. I cringed while paying the £50 administration fee for each boy at each school. 

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July 12th, 2012
10:07 PM
This school is not for all and needs to reviewed by ofsted!

October 1st, 2009
2:10 PM
What a great read - thanks for that and I wish I'd discovered one of those wallets in that Mews!

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