The top 400 schools in Ireland were printed today.
Tonight I am wondering what exactly makes a school a ‘top’ school? Is it really, as these tables tell us, a school with the largest percentage going to University?
Since their inception I have been uncomfortable with the idea of printing these ‘top’ schools. My reasons are many. Among them is the belief we are comparing apples and oranges. Some of these schools have attending them, a majority of pupils who have come from homes where one or both parents went to University. For these pupils, going to University is a given, the only thing to be decided is to which one? These schools are then compared with schools in an area of less prosperity, where the majority of pupils come from homes where it is the exception if a child goes to University. Schools in towns a distance from college where pupils going forward to University will need to live away from home, a cost many families cannot afford. Is this really a fair comparison? Many of the top schools are fee paying? Does that mean we are not doing the best for our children if we cannot afford to pay for their education?
I also ask the question, do we all want our children to go to University? I remember a number of years ago remarking to my husband that the top school that particular year had 100% of it’s pupils go to University. At the time I was impressed. My husband turned to me and said, ‘Was their not a free thinker among them?’. It made me think. He was right. Surely at least one of them should have wanted to do something a little less mainstream? Was free thinking not encouraged?
When it came to choosing a secondary school for my own children I was fairly sure of where I wanted to send them, but I wanted to be sure. So off we went to various open nights of schools in the area. I remember going to a school relatively near to where I live. This school had a new principle and rumour had it he was very driven to improve his schools ranking in these league tables. As I was a less experienced parent at the time, I thought that sounded perfect.
We sat down to the principles address, having briefly toured the school. My son was listening. The principle began by outlining the choices and opportunities that boys attending the school would have, and then he said, ‘However in this school we do not have the resources to deal with those of you who have boys with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia etc. Even though they are very welcome here, we feel it is only right to let you know’. I couldn’t believe my ears. He was politely saying ‘No thank you, to my dyslexic son’. As I have watched this school climb up the league table chart, I have never forgotten how this man, an educator, had treated my son who was sitting in the audience that night. Is this really what ‘teaching’ is about?
As you can imagine instead of this ‘top’ school we chose the local community school. An all inclusive school, with an all kind of everything, population. Over the past nine years it has provided our children with a wonderful academic education, but more importantly an education for life. My son’s dyslexia was never a problem, and he received so much support. I can honestly say most of his teachers went above and beyond the call of duty in teaching him, and some were very emotional when he got the results he wanted in his Leaving Certificate. This was teaching in it’s purest form. These were ‘real’ teachers, working with every type of pupil, from the very brightest, to those with educational and psychological needs, and those who would rather be anywhere but school.
Today as I looked through this years newly published league tables and noted the place our school was on the list, I was proud to see it’s rank. No it is not in the top ten, nor even is it in the top 100, but what does that matter? For myself and the many more who have the privilege of having our children educated there, it is number 1.