In Italy when it is time to pick your kids school, whether it is primary or secondary, you choose the closest to where you live or the one that either you or them most fancy. Easy peasy! When daughter number one was born, we discovered that in Ireland is not like that.
When it comes to primary school, your child has by law a place in the catchment area school, but if you for any reason don’t want your kid to go there,it is better you start invoking for help the entire army of the paradise’s saints and their boss.
When I was first pregnant and still oblivious to the Irish educational system, every time they asked me in which school I had put my baby ‘s name down, I thought they were severely affected by some form of control issue. Not to mention when people were saying to me that they had move home only for the sake to be in the right area for the right school: Ridiculous! Unfortunately,I soon realised it was me to be ridiculously wrong and ridiculously naive.
When daughter number one was two months old, I went to leave her name to a new multidenominational school,(because naturally in the meanwhile we discovered we didn’t like at all our catchment area school), and she was already number 90 in the waiting list. People were putting their baby’s name down even if they were not born yet, just with the due date. Insane!
Turning to private school was not better. The good old rule so popular in continental Europe that if you pay you get what you want, it doesn’t apply to Irish education. The process is the same than for public schools plus, on top, just for the privilege of your child potentially attending a such renominate institute, you also have to pay a deposit that will never go back into your pocket.
By March of the year my daughter had to start primary school, we still didn’t know where to send her and I was panicking. Of course, the travelling husband was relaxed and rational about it: “Somewhere they have to take her. Education is a right”.
Of course, they did and they would have; it was just that “somewhere” to bother me!
As much as I hate to admit it, the husband was right, once again. Not only by May we had four offers, but we also could make our pick and ended up to send her to one of the best school in the area.
The only good thing about the Irish educational system is that once you have your first child in, all the others are automatically accepted. Your first child is a sort of guinea pig. Unless, of course, you would be so lucky to live and bare your children in the area you grew up, as the offspring of past pupils is guaranteed a place in the school attended by their parents, no matter what.
Once you have the primary school sorted, then it is time to think about secondary. The second level education system is, if possible, even more complicated. The rule about siblings and off spring of former students is still applied,but there isn’t a catchment area school where you are guaranteed to be accepted.
The advantage of secondary schools is that not all follow the same admission requirements: some of them will give the precedence to children living in the school area and others to children attending one of the feeder schools. If you are blessed enough to belong to the right category you are fine. We are not!
When we moved, and I discovered that not only here in the northside you don’t have to worry about secondary school until the fifth class, but the girls were also attending one of the primary feeder school for the local community college, I felt like to open a bottle of champagne.
Now, that daughter number one is in sixth class, I instead feel to open a bottle of Prozac every morning.
It turned out that the local college changed its admission policy two years ago and now the precedence goes to kids living in the catchment area rather than from a feeder school. The other candidate school that we equally like, on the other hand, gives the precedent to kids coming from the feeder schools, which is not our case. Once again we are on the wrong side of the Irish education system!
So far the situation is this, we requested admission in three schools, and we are waiting to hear if we will be offered a place. If we won’t, we can still hope in the final raffle. I know what you ‘re thinking: a lottery for assigning school places? Yes! If you are miserable enough to get in the second round waiting list, then your kid’s future will be in the hand of the police officer in charge of extracting the name of those so fortunate to get the few refused places. Because, in fairness, there is space for everybody and the agony wouldn’t be so long if only who have been offered more than one place would make their mind sooner rather later.
If you think that the torture is over after you had handed the enrolment form and all you have to do is to sit and wait, you are wrong. The potential schools are not happy only testing the strength of your nerves; they also want to check your physical resistance with endless open nights.
The applicants and their parents are invited to visit the schools and listen to what the most prominent figure of the institute has to say. The first time is informative, but by the third time you do it, you would rather shoot yourself on the feet than endure all this for three hours…..again. The schools might be different, but what the principals and the teachers and the head students have to say it is all the same. The worst, then, is that it looks like they want to sell you the school, while everybody in the audience perfectly knows that is not like that.You are there begging for a place for your kid. Your kid,that in the meanwhile is building up expectations that you can only hope won’t be disappointed.