Friday 30 September 2016

Social networks are at the heart of parents' decisions to send children to private schools

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

In an age of rising pupil achievement levels all around, a selling point of the fee-paying schools remains their social networks. Photo: PA
In an age of rising pupil achievement levels all around, a selling point of the fee-paying schools remains their social networks. Photo: PA

At the heart of the decision of many parents to send their children to a fee-paying school is the social network into which they will enter. True, the extra resources enjoyed by these schools through the fees paid by parents gives them financial flexibility to offer advantages - such as smaller classes, broader subject choice and better facilities.

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It is certainly the case that as a cohort, the former pupils of fee-paying schools dominate entry to third-level, most particularly in the universities, where competition for entry is keenest - as a consequence their courses tend to demand higher points. Those points can be easier to notch up in environments where students have the benefit of smaller classes and other supports that money can buy.

The annual 'feeder school' tables showing progression rates to college in 2015 revealed that schools in the free education scheme are increasingly matching the fee-paying sector in terms of third-level entry.

These league tables have been published annually for about a decade and may themselves be a factor in sharpening competition between schools, whether in the fee-paying or free education sectors.

So, if the local 'free education' school can now boast the same academic results as a fee-paying one, why would parents - other than those, perhaps, who have long-standing bonds with a particular school - spend thousands of euro a year on fees and the range of "extras" for which they will also have to pay.

In an age of rising pupil achievement levels all around, a selling point of the fee-paying schools remains their social networks. Since long before Facebook, they have allowed parents to choose 'friends' for their children, and the doors that may open in terms of both career and personal relationships.

These schools have strong inter-generational links to professions such as law or medicine. They are also the schools most associated with the sport of rugby, closely aligned to the elite professions.

As many high-achieving graduates discover, the 'old boys' networks' are strong and who you know can be as important, if not, in some cases, more so than what you know.

The value of such connections - or at the very least being in the same circles as them - can even come into play much earlier than when a graduate finds himself or herself knocking on doors looking to progress a career; Transition-year students from certain schools will find it easy to get work experience in legal or banking circles, while others may have to rely on local retail outlets.

Irish Independent

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