Our London Life: Public School and Free Healthcare?!

I wanted to put together a few posts about our life here in the UK to commemorate our time here so far. There are three, this is the second.

It’s also the most wordy. Strap yourself in.

 

PUBLIC SCHOOL – 

When we were planning our move here from America, we considered private school options. We weighed our options carefully and decided to “gamble” on a public school. We knew very little about the education system, but we just went with our gut on the decision because we wanted the children to have an authentic British experience. And that meant putting them into British public school instead of an international private school.

We SO made the right call.

Our local public school is *awesome.* I’m aware of the fact that, like the US, the public education system is having a little bit of a hard time in the UK right now. But our experience at our school has been nothing but stellar.

Here in the UK, government funded public school starts at age 3 with half day Nursery. Then at age 4, children go into Reception – which is a full five days. From there, they move up into Year 1, Year 2 and so on.

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When we first moved here, because of the American-UK curriculum difference, Harry was severely behind. The kids he entered into school with here were reading books and writing poems, while he had just begun learning sight words. Not only did the staff fully support him, they caught him up and he now exceeds standards in several areas.

Our school is considered relatively large, and we have about 30 kids to each classroom. Three classes per grade level. That room is staffed with a teacher and full time teacher’s assistant. Also, children who are behind in areas or ahead in areas get pulled out for certain times and allocated to other resource teachers. Students aren’t given grades, but are given a status in each benchmark of “working towards” “working at” or “working at greater depth.”

So, for example when Harry first arrived, he was “working towards” all of the curriculum goals in Reading and Writing. They would pull him out for certain phonics help with the resource teacher to move him towards “working at” – which he is now at.

In Math, he easily moved up and now he is “working at greater depth.” For ‘working at greater depth’ he gets pulled out at certain times, to work extra on Math to further challenge and increase his math skills. In other words, they have support on either side of the spectrum.

As part of the standard curriculum, they also receive French, Music, and Computing once a week. They also have Art/Design Technology once a week, taught in their classroom where they do everything from paint and design to sewing and pottery. Also, weekly, they have a lesson in either Religious Education or PSHE (personal, social, health and economic). In these lessons, they cover a wide range of topics including all types of religion, how to deal with stress, appropriate social and sexual behavior, and how to keep themselves healthy. Some of these RE and PHSE lessons have been more impactful for them than anything else they’ve learned at school.

For physical education, they have two hours a week of dedicated PE time. Something I think is interesting, is that they contract out the PE education. The whole PE staff is from a private company that the school hires, and they run their curriculum based upon national standards. And at any new year, they could shop for a new PE company and have a whole new one. In addition to the entire PE course, they offer before and after-school sports classes – like soccer and rugby – right at school that we can sign up for. For an extra fee… of course.

In addition to PE, our school participates in the “Daily Mile.” This is a dedicated 15m time, separate from PE or break time, that the children are taken outside to walk or run along a designated path for 15 minutes. My boys typically run most of it, they say. I think that is an excellent part of their day, and benefits them in so many ways. I’m so grateful that our school does it.

Swimming is a national curriculum requirement, so all Year 4 children are marched to the nearest pool for swim lessons. At our previous school – Riversdale – ALL students swam weekly because they had a pool in-house.

Also, most schools – including ours – have scooter riding safety and street bike riding lessons at the age appropriate levels as part of the school day in the summer term.

Another thing I think is really cool is their ‘yearly performance.’ Every school year each individual class puts on a performance. The performance is always tied into their “Topic” of the term, and it’s not only fun for them and a great way to socialize and bond with classmates, but it is very educational. The children write most of the lines. Every student will have at least one line. And some students have many. There will be music and choreography, basic costumes and lighting. Here are few pictures from Finn’s performance this year. eVXCTCdTQJm8s9LY%%+xgwJCmacW44QwSt49kI79IKCA

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Both of the boys have gotten very excited about their class performances in the past. Even though they don’t have huge parts and they aren’t the most outgoing, they both appreciate the teamwork and cooperation it takes to put the performance on and are happy to be involved.

Lunch – always hot. And, like PE, catered in by a private company. So, if the school isn’t  happy with the lunch service, the school is free to choose a different one. We book and pay for lunches online. And for children in Reception, Year 1, and Year 2 – lunch is free.

And then, in the afternoon or the morning depending on when they have lunch – the children have an additional fruit snack. This is just a piece of fresh or dried fruit that is packed by us each morning.

I have been very impressed with the school lunch companies. I think they offer a good balance of kid-friendly options while making it unique and healthy. Our current company boasts locally sourced milk and produce. They offer familiar dishes like pizza, and fish and chips. But on different days have Roast Turkey and Creamy Chicken Curry. Here is their current menu:

http://fluencycontent2-schoolwebsite.netdna-ssl.com/FileCluster/WimbledonParkFirst/MainFolder/Summer-2018-Menu-Final.pdf

The kids have an hour for lunch and play. They are monitored by staff and cannot have their pudding (dessert) unless they’ve eaten most of their lunch. And, if your child doesn’t eat their lunch well enough, after a few days, you’ll get a note home. And if it continues, they will suggest you pack a lunch for them. The staff also helps, especially if they are in reception, to cut up their food.

The Reception and Nursery EACH have their own outdoor play areas, separate from the rest of the school.

 

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Also – just like Harry Potter – there are “Houses.” I didn’t know this was a real thing, and now I feel so stupid. But, just like Harry Potter, the entire school is split into four houses. Our houses are Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow. If you have siblings in the school, then you all go into the same house. I think it adds an extra dimension to the school of belonging and togetherness. For doing good things, you might get a house token or two. Sometimes you get a house token for eating all of your lunch, or helping a friend, or going above and beyond on your homework. Then, you put your house tokens into the house token tubes. The tokens are counted up and at the end of the week and – every Friday – there is a celebration assembly.

At celebration assembly, each teacher gives out a “Star of the Week” award. There might sometimes be additional school-wide awards for special work in Math or English. *Harry got the Year 4 Math award – the only one out of the class. Just saying. Brag moment.* Then, the students are updated on the ‘goings on’ around the school by either the student council representatives (yes, they have a student council) or by the house captains. Then the House Cup is awarded to whichever house earned the most tokens and that house is given extra play time. Then they usually sing a couple songs and are released. If your child is the “Star of the Week” then you are invited to attend the celebration assembly. Well… actually you are basically required to attend. It’s special and fun to go.

Also – absolute mandatory parent attendance is the yearly “Sports Day” where children compete in their house colors in various track and field events. Go Green House!!

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If you’re wondering how they have time to fit all of these lessons and assemblies and long lunches in, here is Harry’s current schedule:

http://fluencycontent2-schoolwebsite.netdna-ssl.com/FileCluster/WimbledonParkFirst/MainFolder/Content/classes/Year-5/5P.pdf

Currently a little bit under scrutiny because of funding issues, are the field trips. The field trips have been great experiences for Harry and Finn, and I hope that the school can maintain them. They’ve gotten to visit several museums, an urban farm, the London Eye, and Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.

Harry, in Year 4, got to go on a two-night “residential” trip to a countryside estate where they focused on outdoor education and team building. And in Year 5, the school takes them to France where they learn to bake croissants and visit a snail farm and historic town center.

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The community around the school is very social and inviting. There are lots of parent social events – like Class Drinks, Class Coffee morning, Wine Night, Quiz night, Parent Social. And of course, there are lots of fundraising events.

 

Other fun things:

– Homework is minimal.

– There is Christmas at school. England doesn’t claim to separate church and state. So, while they recognize and respect other religions, it is officially a Christian country. No apologies. They have a Christas tree in the hall and sing-a-long night.

– THERE IS BOOZE AT SCHOOL. This one still gets me every time. For every fundraiser or event. Whether it be mulled wine at the Christmas concert or Pimms at the Summer Fair – there will be booze and lots of it. #LondonWinsSchool

– The school is often rented out for birthday parties and private events. This helps the school earn extra money, and is a convenient meeting place for families.

– Security is tight. The entire school is gated with a intercom system. And once you’re inside the gates, you have to be separately buzzed into the building. Parents are not allowed into the building at anytime during the school day unless authorized through the office.

 

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PUBLIC HEALTHCARE –

ALRIGHT. I knew nothing about UK healthcare before we moved here.

NOTHING.

Universal healthcare?

Free?

What does that even mean?

As far as I can tell, it means that if you pay taxes or are a UK resident, you receive healthcare as a *small* perk of that.

They call it care from ‘birth to grave’ and they’ve been doing it like this since the 1940s.

Here is all I know:

When you move to an area, you register with the local General Practice (GP). There are several doctors and nurses working in the facility and you can choose a doctor that you’d like to be your ‘main physician.’ Once you and the family are registered then you can begin using this facility as needed.

When someone is sick, you call the doctor. They have a certain amount of ‘on the day appointments’ and they also make appointments in advance. If you need to be seen on the day, and your doctors office is full, you then have the option to go to more of a Emergency Care or ER type situation.  Alternatively – if you can’t get a same day appointment, you can call 111. This is the NHS hotline (National Healthcare Service) and they will ask you a series of questions to determine the seriousness of your illness. If they determine that you need to be seen right away – they can call your local GP and request an appointment for you. Basically they can override the system.

The local GP also does any other regular appointments and shots that we might need. And thankfully they send me reminders on when to make those. They don’t see the children for yearly health checks unless you request it. But they have been great about preventive screenings for women – and reminders for those.

Also, our local GP has been great about calling me back. Most of the time I just want to talk to a doctor instead of come in. The receptionist takes my number, and the doctor has called me back within half a day every time except one (in which she called in the afternoon). They are always patient and helpful on the phone. Sometimes after talking with the doctor she has determined she would like to see us and gets us in same day. But also – after talking with me about a chronic issue, she just sent me a script right to the pharmacy and I didn’t have to come in.

Another thing our local GP is great about – is giving priority to children. If Rich or I call to make an appointment, they will tell me that the day is booked. But if I specify that it’s for a child – there will suddenly be space. And if there’s still not space – the doctor will make time to call you.

They will not give you an antibiotic all willy nilly. This is obviously better for long term health. But it was hard to get used to. If you bring your child in on a three day fever, they will often send you back home with NOTHING. If it continues and you make a second visit, then you will likely get an antibiotic for that.

However – if you are REALLY in need – as I have been TWICE – they will give it to you quickly. I started running a fever and was terribly sick the day before we were supposed to fly to Vegas. I went to the doctor in the morning before our flight, told them we were leaving, they gave me basically a Zpac and I was almost better before we landed in Vegas. Then again, I got terribly sick with a sinus infection right before we planned to leave for Barcelona. I went to the doctor the day before we left and she loaded me up with antibiotics, sinus medication, and high powered headache meds. I was back to myself by the time we arrived in Barcelona.

So, all I’m saying is…. They can tell the difference. They won’t just hand things out. WHICH IS A GOOD THING. But, if you are really in need. They’ve got it. They’ve got the good stuff. And they will help you.

I’ve never felt like our care at the local GP has been negative or unsatisfactory at all. Yes, sometimes I’m on hold for a long time and sometimes I have to wait for the doctor to call me back. But those are small things. And, when we’ve needed anything they’ve always cared for us promptly and effectively.

A fun little difference from America, at least at our GP, is that the nurses don’t bring you back to the patient room. The nurses work on the first floor and see patients, do paps, administer shots etc. The doctors sit on a different level in the patient rooms and buzz you through an intercom into the waiting room when they are ready for you.

OK, that’s the local GP. And allllll of that is “free” through our taxes.

Cost of appointments = 0

Cost of shots/tests/fees = 0

Cost of scripts for kids = 0

Cost of scripts for adults = flat fee of $8, or a monthly fee of $30 (if you need more than three), and certain people can apply for an exception certificate so that all of your medications are free.

CONTRACEPTION IS FREE.

With NHS you are not taking your children to regular well checks. This was a big change for me. However, your child will still get plenty of care. NHS sends out health visitors to your home when you have a baby, and as the baby grows they will come again. Also – there are NHS funded Children’s Centres where you can go and get them evaluated if you have concerns. Also at the Children’s Centres are free parent support classes and playgroups that are regularly attended by an NHS speech and language therapists. You can just drop in and ask questions.

Other than the regular GP, we’ve only needed an ER type situation once (knock on some wood right now). Viv inhaled some baby powder and I was a little over-reactionary. I called 111 and they recommended she be monitored. Anyway… nothing serious, we were home a few hours later. Happy with the staff and the care we received.

The only other time we’ve needed care outside of the GP was for Rich’s vasectomy at the hospital. We used standard NHS on everything. I took a few weeks to get an appointment, but in our situation it didn’t matter. It went great. Nothing exceptional to report. Which,  I think in this situation is exactly what you want.

And again – all of that…. completely free to us.

We are so freaking lucky to be generally healthy. I know that. In a situation where you have serious ongoing issues, or a chronic condition – I can’t speak to NHS on those subjects.

 

PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE:

Even though there is a comprehensive health system available for every citizen (and tourist!), there is still a private health insurance route.

Through Rich’s company here, we pay for ‘private insurance.’ Some people at the company recommended it. So we have it. We pay an entire £70/month for our private insurance. I was like “Is that a joke? What does that even do?” And during our time here, I’ve told Rich several times to just drop it, because we never need or use it. By the way, that £70 disregards any previous medical conditions and covers us when we travel.

But anyway – we pay for it. And I’ve “gone private” exactly two times.

Having this private insurance doesn’t really do much on a regular basis. Like, at the GP, it serves no real purpose. And that took me a LONGGG time to figure out. Where it comes into play, is when you need to see a specialist. When you have an issue that needs to be seen by a specialist, the regular GP will offer you a referral. The referral will be with NHS. But they may also tell you about your private options, depending on the issue.

And here’s how it worked for us:

Finn needed to see an ENT because he essentially couldn’t hear out of one ear. The NHS ENT could get us in for an appointment in three weeks. A local private option could get us an appointment in one week. This was not necessarily an emergency, obviously. But I decided to go private because we were already paying for it and because the private ENT was marginally closer to the house.

Similar to American health insurance, we pay our monthly payment and then we pay any additional costs associated with our plan.

Finn went for three visits. Each time, his hearing was tested by a technician and then we visited with the doctor and discussed the test results and treatment.

The total cost of his visits was £925.

We paid £150.

We paid £150 because that is the maximum annual out of pocket expense per person on our plan. So if he went back 10 more times in that year, or had an operation, we still wouldn’t have to pay more than that.

The second time we “went private” was to have Vivian’s eye mole evaluated. Again, not an emergency, but definitely a case for a specialist. And I went private, again, as a matter of convenience. The GP recommended she go straight to a pediatric plastic surgeon to have it evaluated. The nearest private option is closer to the house than the nearest NHS option. All of the same payment information applied. Her mole is healthy.

So, even though we do pay for health insurance, it’s ridiculously cheap compared to what I’m used to in America. And most of the time, I don’t even need to use it.

 

ALL PRICES ARE POSTED

WHAT’S HANDY in this whole situation is that a private hospital or doctor has all of their prices listed on their website.

AH what??

Yes.

There’s no phone calls to the insurance or paperwork to fill out or we’ll see how much we get billed.

There is no mystery around here. For all of this I knew exactly how much I was going to pay up front.

It’s completely awesome.

And so simple it’s ridiculous.

 

DENTAL AND EYE – 

Through NHS, all children receive basic free dental and eye care.

For adults, NHS offers basic care. And it’s similar to the medical system in that you’ll have to wait for some things. We carry private dental insurance, because once again it was recommended to us. We pay £13/month for our family and for each adult we have a yearly spending limit around £120. We can shop dentists – all of the dentists post their prices up front on the website or at the office. You know in advance how much you will spend, and you pay upfront. Then, you put in for reimbursement from the insurance company.

 

Now that I’ve gotten used to how it works here, I’ve come to rely on it. It was a big adjustment, but I love it now. I know that healthcare is complicated, but here it at least SEEMS more simple.

I thought that the doctors might be mundane government employees with no motivation. That was a stupid, inconsiderate thought. I have found all of the doctors to be genuinely kind and wanting to help. They are sometimes blunt and no-nonsense, and might tell you the truth if you aren’t seriously sick enough to be in there.

But if you are, they will listen and take care of you. In fact, in this system, I think they are more protected by their employer (the government) vs their American private counter-parts. I imagine they have less to worry about, since they aren’t also essentially running a business and worrying about mal-practice. And this allows them to just focus more on patient care.

In addition, I think there are economic benefits. My housekeeper can charge me her hourly rate. And if she breaks a finger or gets cancer, she doesn’t have to worry about the cost of that. She can freely work, and keep her rate competitive. And since everyone can do this, from nannies to gardeners, to electricians to small business owners, to waiters to artists – this keeps the cost of low level labor down. Which makes it easier on everyone.

All I’m saying is… I’m here.

I’m an American living in the UK directly experiencing a successful Universal Healthcare system. And I have to say, I’m convinced. I’m not only convinced that it can work, I’m jealous. It’s a good thing they have going here. And I’m mad/sad/jealous that I won’t have access to it for the rest of my life.

 

IN CONCLUSION – 

All prices for healthcare are posted on websites and easy to find.

If it’s not life-threatening you will wait.

If it is life-threatening, you will be cared for.

If you get cancer you won’t also go bankrupt.

There are no bogus fees and no insurance paperwork to fill out.

Sometimes there are long waits, modest buildings, and minimal staff.

Possibly better patient care because doctors are less burdened.

Possibly keeps low level labor costs down.

 

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Alrighty, that concludes part two of the “Life in London” series.

Public school and healthcare.

Admittedly, I don’t know everything.

I only know (as is the usual with everything else on MY blog) my experience, in 2018, seen through my American-colored glasses.

 

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