independent

Friday 20 September 2019

Picking schools used to be more straightforward

SHEA TOMKINS

SATURDAY, 6.50 a.m.: The young lad wakes me to tell me that he wants to go fishing. I open one eye to check that he's not sleepwalking, or talking, before his words collide with clarity. Then I draw back the curtain to inspect the weather. The early morning sky suggests promise and fishing doesn't sound like such a bad idea, especially when the alternative is weed-pulling. I quickly devise a way for us to go fishing, while ensuring that we don't actually have any success. It seems that there is little in life that doesn't have red tape attached to it these days. The younger lad watches on, waiting for an invitation and I tell him that he hasn't a hope.

11.00 a.m.: In the local discount store we buy a fishing net. It's good to see that they still manufacture such simple forms of entertainment, and that kids still maintain interests outside the realms of the Xbox. The young lad decides it could double up as the ideal tool with which to catch butterflies, and can't wait to scuttle off into the garden. The good woman helps him set up a table to attract the flying insects with the delectable wings, though it's not a practice I am familiar with. She tells us that seeing as we are going fishing, she won't bother going to the shops – we'll undoubtedly provide a catch for the tea. We bid her farewell, and on the edges of her lips I'm sure I can detect a smirk.

1.00 p.m.: We find a nice spot along the banks and the young lad sits himself down. Overhead in the trees hang security cameras, unusual to find in the wilds of the country but effective, I would imagine, if used in combating the recent rise in the number of car break-ins at our various beauty spots. He dips his net into the water and asks me why he can't see any fish. I tell them they might be having a nap. As we sit in the silence, inhaling the clean air and celebrating the absence of all things industrial, he asks me why he has to use a fishing net, and not a rod. I explain that these nets are for children who just want to have a bit of fun, and that rods are more complicated to use; when he gets older he can have one. Then he asks me if he can have a rod when he is in the big boys' school. It dawns on me that already in his mind the countdown to the end of his crèche days has begun, and plans for a primary school must be put in place. And the day can't far off that when he says he wants to go fishing, he actually expects to catch a fish. Before our very eyes it has happened without us really noticing. The young lad is growing up. Any day now, he'll be asking for the car.

6.00 p.m.: The good woman has anticipated that the fishermen might return empty-handed, and she makes alternative arrangements for the supper. After we get the boys down for the night, I tell her about the young lad's line of questioning regarding primary schools and we decide it's time to explore our options. These days choosing a school is less straightforward than when I wore short trousers. With greater means of transport for rural dwellers and the surge in popularity of Gaelscoils and Educate Togethers, standard primary schools now have serious competition. Also, with these extra choices, any given school's reputation comes under closer scrutiny, which can only be a good thing. Why shouldn't parents take their time to ensure their child gets the best education available to them? When it comes to career paths, choosing a primary school is not as important as deciding where best to send them for second-level education. Many parents have the time to keep up with the primary curriculum and go over what their child has learned, at the end of each day. That is not always possible with secondary education, when the difficulty level of the programme increases. Besides, many of us had trouble understanding it all the first time around.

Ireland boasts exceptionally diligent and capable teachers at primary level, proof of which I have seen first-hand through adult years spent in various classrooms.

Ultimately, we have decided that when the young lad makes the move to ' big school' the most important thing to us is that he is happy and safe. We have grown to accept that innocence doesn't last half long enough in society anymore. We also hope that he learns, makes good buddies and his intellect and talents are challenged accordingly. Once a school can offer that, it's as good a start in life as any of us can expect.

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