Which high school should you send your child to?

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In The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that having too many choices and decisions can seem overwhelming, especially when the stakes – your child’s future prospects, as you see – are so high. There is a tendency to worry about the little details and wonder if in this case there is a better or more suitable school around the corner.

The problem of school choice is of course particularly urban: for parents in rural areas or small towns, your child attends the local school.

There’s a good reason The Irish Times Nursery School listings have proven so popular with parents over the years: They desperately need all the information they can get about schools. But how many students in each school make it to grade three is just one part of what a parent can consider when deciding which school is best for their child.

Dr Rose Ryan is Director of Access at Maynooth University, where a high proportion of students are the first in their families to go to third level.

“When making a decision about a school, parents look at the school rankings and think that because a certain number progress to higher education, that makes a good school,” she says. “Maybe yes, and maybe not, but as a parent and a professional there is a lot more that goes to a school.”

Parenting education

Surprisingly, perhaps, the most important element in your child’s success – academically at least – in any given school has little to do with the school itself. Instead, parental income and parental education level can have the greatest impact on a child: if a parent has the emotional and financial capital to think about which school is right for their child, they are already engaged. and invested in his education. . Additionally, a school with a 100 percent progression rate may have terrible teachers but, if it is fee-paying or in a wealthier area, parents are more likely to be able to pay for basic teachers outside of schools.

Culture of care

Even in a great school, only a small percentage of students will excel academically, says Ryan.

“There are hundreds of thousands of them in the school system,” says Ryan. “Parents want their children to be in a school that cares for them and cares about them. If a school has this culture of caring, it supports students academically, but it also sees the whole person. Therefore, academic performance, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, imagination, wit, and drama are all important. Parents withhold subtle clues as to where to send their kids, but I had one measure, that would be how the school supports weaker students, not strong ones, the best indicator of school culture. he school is how they help students with financial, social, family, cultural or learning challenges.

School management

In Irish education, at least, the power rests with the school principal. The school board often – or usually – sits behind the principal. If, in your search for the right school, you find the principal and teachers suspicious and defensive from the start, this can be a bad sign.

“A supportive school principal provides leadership to teachers,” says Ryan. “They set the tone and the culture and what is expected of students.”

Indeed, it is a subject that often comes up with former students of a school: what their teachers expected of them. If it is assumed that they will not go to secondary or higher education, they will likely fulfill this prophecy – and what teachers assume about their student can be guided by their principal.

At Inchicore’s Mercy College, Dublin 8, the school principal, Michelle O’Kelly, leads a team of educators who encourage university entry from the first day of school. Following the lead of their principal, teachers in this socially deprived area treat every girl the same as a student from a wealthy family in a paying school going to third cycle – and this has, as expected, leads to higher progression rates.

St Joseph’s in Rush, north County Dublin, took a similar approach: like Mercy College, it improved guidance counseling, school planning, links to a university (in this case Trinity College) and teaching and learning. Both schools also ensured that students’ voices were not only heard, but heard and implemented. At St Joseph’s, this approach has seen rates of progression to the third level more than quadruple, from a base of 15 percent, in a decade.

Voices of students and parents

“The idea that a middle-class person of a certain age knows what’s best for school is wrong,” says Ryan. “You often get the impression that the teacher is the source of all wisdom and authority, but in the best schools, teachers are knowledge facilitators and students are treated as equal partners. Institutions that listen to the experience of students and implement meaningful change are much better institutions. When students talk about a good school, they are not saying how great it is that 30 students got 500 points or that there was a 90% progress rate in the third level: they are saying at what point the staff were respectful to them and that there was a nice place for lunch at the school.

The best schools also have meaningful ways for parents to engage with the school, rather than just being cash cows for “voluntary contributions.”

Other important factors to consider:

* The diversity: Exposure to different ethnicities, sexualities, and socio-economic backgrounds helps a child discover different perspectives and experiences.

* Extra-curricular activities: What interests your child and can he do it in this school?

* Religion and ethics: they may say that they value all children equally, but what really happens to children from non-religious families during religion class? Are there any meaningful withdrawal options? What if a child – maybe your child – turns out to be gay, bisexual, or transgender – will they be told not to talk about it, or will they be actively supported in an environment that does not tolerate homophobic or transphobic bullying?

* Well-being: How does the school actively support policies and procedures that support the health and well-being of young people. When it comes to bullying, don’t just look at the school’s undoubtedly impressive written policies against bullying: ask the local Vineyard what is really going on with the reports of bullying.

* Choice of the subject : if they do not have, for example, a good choice of linguistic or scientific subjects, can they allow students to study these subjects at a distance?

Where to find information on schools:

* Word of mouth: There is perhaps no better source of information than the local vineyard. If you can support yet another WhatsApp group, there are plenty of parent groups out there who can tell you what local schools really look like (although you should keep in mind that these groups can also be hotbeds of unfounded rumors) .

* School-wide evaluations: You will find them on the website of the Ministry of Education. While they give a good overview of a school’s strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement, they are not always up to date.

* Open days: Most in-person open houses are still on hold due to the Covid-19 crisis, but many schools are holding virtual open houses. These should give you an idea of ​​the school’s ethics and values, subject options, welfare and pastoral care supports, and student and parent voice approach. One thing to watch out for is the school’s approach to teaching and learning – and a good sign is if you notice that the school is emphasizing the word ‘learning’ rather than the word ‘teaching’. .

What do you think?

What is education for? Hopefully educate emerging adults who are considerate of others. People capable of working as a team. People who can weather the storms of adolescence, who are about to find out who they are

* @fionnulamac

I actively watch a DEIS school because the rankings don’t give the full picture, just a very narrow slice and are just imo classists. This school is unlikely to do well according to the rankings, but it is more likely to have the support my children need to reach their full potential.

* Cllr Carly Bailey (Social Democrats)

How many ANS do they have? Some “high performance” schools have no NLS, no special educational needs students, and no soul.

* @ Moloch50

If I could enroll my two children in non-fee, coeducational, religion-less schools without a true uniform, it would mean a lot more to me than any “grading” could.

* @LisaGrimm

What is the offer for the transition year in each school? What additional programs like theatrical performances, school choir, newspaper available.

* @Pamelamcq

Kudos to schools that have as many students finishing 6th grade as they are starting 1st grade, have daily library access, have choir, sports, clubs, have lockers and are open to study before and after school. Points lost for uniforms, bullying, poor sanitation and snobbery.

* @ LizButler901

As much as schools can, the family life of students will or destroy them in most cases. Pay a fee or not, if a student is not liked / cared for, etc. at home, being successful in school is much more of an uphill struggle.

* @SandraDNolan

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