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I chose to put my four children through private secondary school, here's why

There may be an air of ambition that one hopes will be contagious. If the friends all have high hopes, ours probably will too.

THE PUBLIC EDUCATION system doesn’t differ hugely from the private one.

Why did we jump through hoops to get our children into the “right” school? Was it to ease our conscience that we are doing our best for them? Was it like taking out an insurance policy? Have we settled into an expectation that this is what we do next? As a mother of four, all privately educated, our decision was based on touch of all the above.

Of course, there isn’t a parent on the planet who doesn’t want their child to succeed and realise their full potential. And just like no two children are the same, neither is their ability to learn or their appetite for it.

Our system relies on the leaving cert points, the be-all-and-end-all marker and culmination of their six years at school. Why, oh why don’t our universities have undergraduate programmes, but that’s another day’s rant!

So, if it’s chasing points we are after, the private schools seemed, until recently, to be delivering them. However, a little disquieting offer here, is it with the aid of grinds? Most children in the private school system seem to be availing of grinds on a regular basis. Certainly, ours did. I think we felt better because of it, if they had two maths grinds a week, something must be going in! Is this giving a false idea of the success of the fee paying system?

There are good teachers and poor teachers in every school throughout the country. Being in the most expensive fee paying school doesn’t guarantee you good teachers. There may be an air of ambition there that one hopes will be contagious. If the friends all have high hopes, ours probably will too, there has to be a value to that. Private schools also generally have good guidance teachers, who have an expertise in the third level requirements and the dreaded CAO form filling. Getting that wrong can be the cause of a lot of stress and heartache.

So, if the teaching is not hugely different (and in my opinion, it’s not) do we send our children to fee paying school for the ambience? I’m not being flippant but if the kids are in a school with good sporting and musical amenities, will they be happier? If their friends are going to that school, will they be happier? If the cafeteria serves great food will they be happier? Given the instant gratification seekers that children are, they probably will be. And, we all know, a happier child is a welcome addition to any household.

Of course, location plays a huge part in choosing a school, whether the school is near home or on the parent’s route to work is a very pertinent factor. In our case, we choose a boarding school because of that very issue. The boarding school camaraderie and the long lasting friendships that result in the sustained endurance of perceived hardship over the years together is a very valuable and happy by-product. By living in each other’s pockets for six years, the friends our children made in school are friends they will have for life.

The debate goes on, and in my humble opinion, the ability to study comes from within and cannot be bought (after four children I can firmly confirm this).

The thirst for knowledge and the ambition to achieve is as much a part of our DNA as the colour of our hair. Our daughters are all doing well in their chosen paths (only one off the books and earning, another doing her masters and the youngest in final year, our son is still in school).

But would we send them all to boarding school again? We probably would, but I wouldn’t feel as emphatic about it now as I did ten years ago. We sacrificed a lot, and we hope they gained a lot from the experience. It’s hard to measure success; it means different things to different people. So, stress not, they will get on the road to higher education, whether it costs you a bicycle or car, it’s your call.

Read: Fee-paying schools have extra €81.3m for teachers and facilities>

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