A wonderful education - priceless.jpg

A wonderful education – priceless

By DAVID LEWIS [email protected]

David Lewis lives in Praia da Luz with his wife Shirley, and two children, Ollie and Fraser. Having spent more than 25 years in the City of London, he is now Financial Services Manager with the Oceânico Group.

What I am about to write this month has been worrying me for weeks.

You see, the idea behind this column is to let you take the occasional peek into our new life here in Portugal.  

So far, you’ve felt the excitement we experienced when we were first offered a job here, cried tears of frustration and joy as we moved our worldly belongings from darkest Wales to the sunny Algarve, and empathised with the almost homicidal tendencies which crept in as we tried to matriculate my wife’s car.

Nothing, however, but nothing is as sensitive as my next subject – finding a school for our children.

Now, this all came as something of a shock to me. I did realise, of course, that it might be difficult expecting our boys – Ollie, nine, and Fraser, seven – to become almost instantly fluent in a foreign language and so, therefore, able to glide smoothly into Portuguese state education.

Therefore, I understood that it was likely that we would need to find them an international school, at least for the first year or two.

But which one to choose? Being a bloke, my natural instincts focussed me on what I saw to be the two most important aspects of the selection process – is it cheap and what sort of football team do they have?

My wife, however, saw things slightly differently. Firstly, let me make this clear. No matter which international school you look at in the Algarve, the answer to the first question is always no.

It is also worth noting that, if you happen to voice this opinion in public, you will almost immediately be forever categorised as “a bad parent”. There is no price tag on a quality education, they cry. Clearly, there is not much by way of price limit either.

Once you have taken into account the snazzy uniforms (which, actually, I must confess do look pretty splendid), the books, bags, shoes (incidentally, at what point in history did Portugal become the shoe price capital of the world? I have paid less for a suit than some of the bills I have been forced to pay for a pair of “suitable” black school shoes), the PE kit and various stationery items,  the bill quickly resembles an MP’s expense return.

All of these goodies, however, are absolute must-haves if we are to keep up with the Jones’s (not to mention the Husseins, Tanakas and Schmidts).

Add the cost of this long list of accessories to the fees themselves and you would be forgiven for seeing my old alma mater, Bryntirion Comprehensive School near Cardiff, in a warm, fuzzy light of wistfulness. So, having written out my umpteenth cheque, it had better be worth it, I thought.

Well, it was.

The school we chose (which I won’t mention so I don’t embarrass the teachers concerned) is absolutely wonderful. First of all, it just looks nice, like a colonial building from the 1930s, it positively beckons you to come on in and have a wonderful childhood. From the palm-trees swaying gracefully in the playground, to the sparklingly inviting swimming pool, it is as far removed from my old, grey concrete block of a school as it is possible to be.

The children – and I exaggerate not one jot – literally hop, skip and jump into school every morning, excited and stimulated by the day of learning which lies ahead. They are polite, respectful and charming to talk to, bursting with positive energy and joie de vivre. It makes you feel good just being in their presence.

Much of the reason for this, of course, lies with the staff. Unlike the UK, they actually seem to enjoy teaching the children. The Headmaster is an absolute inspiration and this attitude is reflected through the entire teaching staff before, finally, infecting every boy and girl with whom they engage.  Maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it’s the fact that they have decent facilities with which to work – whatever it is, it seems to work.

As for Ollie and Fraser, it has been wonderful to see the way they have responded to their new environment. In particular, I have described our oldest boy, Ollie, to friends and family back in the UK as a “blossoming flower”. He has become, before our very eyes, a confident and outgoing young man, rather than the quiet, shy little boy we brought with us. It brings a wee tear to my eye just writing about it.

So, whatever your views of private or state education, this has really worked for us. Of course, we struggle to pay the fees – holidays and other luxuries, which we once took for granted, have to take a back seat until we have enough in the kitty to pay the bills, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As the advert says:  a wonderful education – priceless. Happy, motivated children – priceless. For everything else, there’s always my credit card.

David’s book “Fifty/Fifty” is available from the Griffin Bookshop in Almancil