The Junior Cert results have finally emerged, and while parents obviously prefer their kids to do well, most wise adults understand what’s important is turning out respectful and kind teens, not top grades.
In my experience anyway, amid the higher cost of living, the desire for a child to be a well-rounded and considerate human being is why so many parents remain eager to send their kids to private schools.
If you asked me 20 years ago about sending children to private schools, I would have scoffed that it’s to perpetuate their own privilege or to create cookie-cutter elites, even though the kids I knew from fee-paying schools were perfectly friendly. Now that I’m a parent, I’m more understanding.
I’ve been thinking recently about why you would pay for secondary education when our ‘free’ schools are so good, because we have just emerged from the hellish roller-coaster that is securing a secondary place for your child in south Dublin.
The offers went out in recent weeks, putting an end to the stress for most parents, but not for the ones who remain stranded, straddling numerous waiting lists. We all know everyone gets somewhere in the end, but it feels like a high-stakes game.
There are private schools dotted around the country – five in Cork alone – but the fierce competition and long waiting lists are a peculiar south Dublin phenomenon.
It’s silly, really – no matter what school they end up in, fee-paying or not, they’ll get a good education.
There is a pushy-parent narrative with this, but other parents I’ve spoken to are not focusing on academic side. Instead, they want their children to go to the schools that will develop them most, that will teach them to be good people – somewhere they will be happy.
They changed the rules this year. You can only put your name down in sixth class, which takes away the constant chat about it through the other years. It always felt weird to have eight-year-olds talking about what school they were down for.
I’ve gone through two of these school-place dramas, and I’m always so surprised at how many applications parents make – often losing hundreds of euro because some schools charge you to apply and in the end you can only take the one place.
There is still very high demand, even amid a housing crisis.
Last July, a Department of Education bulletin on education trends over the last 20 years showed 7.9pc of boys and 5.9pc of girls were enrolled at fee-paying secondary schools.
The numbers peaked in 2008, when it was 9.2pc of boys and 6.9pc of girls, but that’s still hefty, considering the higher cost of living. Last year, the numbers attending fee-paying schools was the highest ever, at more than 26,200.
This year we got lucky and my daughter got a place in a local, non-fee-paying school. The girls I know who went there impress me with their attitude. I hear from other parents that it’s an encouraging environment and my school days were happy enough there. Her elder brother goes to a fee-paying school, but again this was my choice, based on the boys I know from there.
There seemed to be a close community around the school. If I’m being honest, I wanted him to be in a strict enough environment where he would be encouraged. A bit of discipline would not go astray. I also felt he’d had more of a setback during the pandemic than his sister.
Research shows boys are more prone to peer pressure, and I would be more worried about him slipping off the tracks.
You get all the above in a non-fee-paying school, but you can’t blame parents for doing all they can to ensure this happens.
Friends with children there spoke of the school’s zero-tolerance of bullying, and our babysitter would tell us about the voluntary work he did in transition year.
This week, Ryan Tubridy said he was recently subjected to hassle in the street by a group of “pretty nasty schoolboys”. I can see how easy it is for boys to stumble into this kind of behaviour. They need strong values drummed into them, and I’m willing to pay to make sure they get this – though, in fairness, who knows where those lads bothering Tubs went to school?
Yes, some parents are well-off, but most are not casually coughing up the fees. Many have normal jobs in nursing and the civil service and it can be a real sacrifice.
We certainly don’t find it a breeze to rustle up the fees, nor do many other families like us. We still rent our home. Not quite the privileged narrative floating around about private school parents.
If I have one quibble, it’s that there should be more diversity among the students. All private schools offer scholarship places, and they should probably increase these (even if it ups the fees for everyone) and allocate them through a lottery system at Deis schools.
Yes, parents want their kids to do well in exams, but they know good grades don’t measure leadership, kindness, emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills.
These traits will become more important as the need to adapt to climate change becomes the main objective of business and not just the perpetuity of increasing economic growth.
If your child did well in the Junior Cert, brilliant; but if they’re a decent teenager, then you’re winning in the educational stakes.