Colman Noctor: The myth of the right school

The myth of the right school

It’s widely believed that the choice of secondary school will have a significant impact on the kind of adult a child will become. It is no surprise then that the various options are carefully researched and discussed. Indeed, many parents will agonise over the decision.

The first consideration is the child’s preference, often the source of dispute. Customarily the child wants to go to the same school as their peers. Parents are aware that friendships can be transitory – particularly as children move between primary and secondary school – and worry about making an important decision on this basis. This is an interesting justification for dismissing the views of the child and one I would warn against.

Mixed or single-sex school?

The next issue is whether to send your child to a co-educational or single-sex school. It’s often said that boys do better in mixed-gender environments than girls do, but this may come down to the young person and is almost impossible to predict as children’s attitudes to the opposite sex can change quickly.

The other factor is the personal preference or indeed the parent’s own experience of attending a single-sex or co-educational school. In some cases, the single-sex school is chosen because mum or dad had a positive experience of a certain single-sex school, and they want to replicate that experience for their child.

Next comes the issue of logistics and spaces available in your locality. For many parents, the geographical location of the school will be an all-important variable and understandably so. Your child attends school five days a week so the convenience of the commute is a vital component. Is it on route to your workplace? You will need to consider commute times and the possibility of extra-curricular activities after school. Also, there’s the issue of accessible public transport which can be the deciding factor in your choice of school.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, there is the possibility that siblings are involved too. Will they be able to go to the same school? Do you want all your children to attend the same school?

Finally, and not insignificantly, there is the financial consideration. Are you are contemplating private education? Is this something you can afford and will the cost-benefit analysis add up?

Many believe that attending a private school will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives, and the more upmarket the school, or the more expensive the tuition, the more likely it is the child will achieve high Leaving Cert results.

Academic success is something we do not talk about enough. Are grades important to you? Is the purpose of secondary school to achieve maximum Leaving Cert points? The popularity of grind schools in recent years would suggest this is the case for many parents and students.

A school’s academic performance is often a deciding factor. This can be emphasised by the themes of the open evenings where the performance of pupils over recent years and position on the School League Tables are front and centre of the sales pitch to attract students, or more accurately parents, to sign up to the particular school.

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