Pay attention down the back – it’s the A-Z of school

There’s an entire alphabet of financial, educational and societal considerations when preparing a family for the return to school

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 01:00

Aldi: Schools had barely closed their doors for the summer when the German supermarket began promising to sell cash-strapped parents a complete primary-school uniform for €6.50. With the National Consumer Agency putting the cost of uniforms, including shoes, for a year at about €200, such savings were not to be sniffed at. The Aldi deal did leave the kids barefoot: the shoes cost an extra €7.99.

Book rental: Why have Irish schools been so slow to implement these efficient schemes, which would save parents about €40 million a year? In the North, schools are given a budget to supply books to children, usually on loan. In the last budget, Ruairí Quinn secured €15 million to expand book-rental schemes in primary schools. More needs to be done.

Crest: Almost two-thirds of schools that have uniforms want them to carry a crest. Not a bad idea, but do they have to be an integral part of the outfit? A crested uniform – jumper, trousers or skirt, tracksuit and coat – costs more than €100 from most official school suppliers. You can buy the lot in most retail outlets for a third of that.

Driving: The impact school runs have on traffic is most evident during August, when our roads are clear. Enjoy it while you can: the snarl-ups are a fortnight away.

Ebook readers: They sound great – they are interactive and light – but they come at a cost. Parents won’t have much change out of €700 in some instances. There are some schools falling over themselves to make tablets mandatory but there hasn’t been much consideration of their educational merit, and the Department of Education appears to have little control over their proliferation.

Failure: We like the proposals that emerged last week that would see students earn CAO points for getting 30-39 per cent in higher level papers, if only because it makes “failing” honours exams that little bit harder. The plan from the Irish Universities Association task group on reform of university selection and Entry is just one of a series of proposals aimed at taking the heat out of the points race.

Geography: History and geography are compulsory subjects for the Junior Cert at present. Under the new Junior Cycle, however, many schools will retain both subjects, but teachers are concerned that it will be pushed out in some schools. If that happens, it won’t be long before we don’t know where we are or how we got here.

Homework: Let’s impose a time limit on homework – say 30 minutes for primary-school children and 90 minutes for secondary school. The notion that children of 11 or 12 should be given homework that can eat up all their playtime seems to miss the point of childhood.

Irish: Struggling to remember your módh coinníollach from your tuiseal ginideach? Don’t worry, the Minister for the Gaeltacht isn’t that far ahead of you. Within minutes of his appointment at the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, a narrative was emerging that suggested Donegal native Joe McHugh would be all at sea when discussing fisheries as Gaeilge. When Pricewatch asked him how he had got on in Irish in the Leaving Cert, he struggled to remember. And he’s done okay.

Junior Cert: Starting this year, the exam is being abolished and replaced with a lower-stakes in-house exam called the Junior Cycle Programme. Teachers will devise and correct some – and eventually all – the subjects. The timetable will be radically altered as schools are instructed to introduce a number of short courses based on local needs and capabilities, to complement the eight to 10 subjects they will offer at exam level.

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