A principal of a Co Wexford secondary school has criticised the 'best schools' grading system as appears in national newspapers, saying it is not a valid way to judge the performance of schools, based solely on student's graduation to a university education.
Ramsgrange Community School principal Rachel O'Connor said: 'With dismay I see yet again the old story again this year: Ireland's 'best schools' are being ranked based on the percentage of their students that went on to third-level education. For whatever the reasons these persistent notions of portraying the "best schools" works and has gotten into some people's minds and is discussed over kitchen tables and in staff rooms throughout the country.
'What about the truer overall picture that progression to third level or to a university, an Institute of Technology or an Apprenticeship or PLC College, is an indicator of how successful a school is? What about those schools who successfully support and nurture the most disadvantaged to secure employment or a place on a level 6 PLC course?'
Ms O'Connor said: 'I meet with parents on open night, I try to place myself in their position. I have moved away from reams of statistics and now try to anticipate genuine questions that parents have: Why would I choose this school? What supports can you offer my child? How will you support the progression my child into AND out of your school? What does your school do to ensure that my child reaches their potential? As a mother of two boys, like any parent, I have hopes and aspirations for my children. I have been asked do I want them to go on to third level. Yes, if that is what they want. Do I care if they want to be an electrician, carpenter or work in a shop, no, I want my children to grow up to be responsible, respectful and resilient young men.
'League tables are selling this notion that future ambitions and success in life can be divided into two broad categories and one is more superior to the other. What matters in any school that is worth its salt are: smiling faces of students and teachers engaged in classroom activities, sports, debating, going to the Model UN, Young Scientist, Poetry Aloud, Maths Week, YSI, An Gaisce, Junior Achievement, chatting on corridors, reading a book peacefully in the school library, making new friendships, helping and including others. In some instances, the only time students have had a reason to get a passport was because of a school tour organised by teachers. Schools that celebrate their student's successes, however big or small, should be lauded. At times, these are the only successes that those living on the margins celebrate. Those are some of the opportunities I would like afforded to my sons and every student in every school in Wexford and further afield.'
Ms O'Connor wants to see all children happy as they progress through school, to be supported to achieve all that they want, 'I want the school to have the systems and structures in place that can react to the challenges they will face as they progress through their teenage years. I want the school to have values that I as a parent believe in and to have a moral purpose, the courage to act and one that models the behaviour I expect from our young people. For me a school that can achieve all of this would be the best school in Ireland. We have hugely committed and dedicated teachers in our schools who lead and facilitate co and extra-curricular activities and while sometimes we bemoan the impact on the Supervision & Substitution Scheme, it is these activities that students remember most about school.
'It is during these activities that they develop lasting friendships, develop their skills and abilities in areas such as teamwork, communication, critical thinking, innovation, creativity, resilience, entrepreneurship and most importantly develop a sense of personal empowerment. As an experienced school principal, I know that it is absolutely impossible to measure, in any ethical way, the effort and energy that are put into individual students by their parents or guardians in the first instance, secondly by themselves and third by their teachers and schools. Let's move away from the notion that entry to third level is a measure of success and give all of our hard working schools the credit they deserve.'