Laughter and tears on first day of school in Lucan

Special needs pupils have paid for crisis, says Griffeen Valley Educate Together principal

Today is the first day of school for many little people around the country. The Irish Times paid a visit to School Grifeen Valley Educate Together in Lucan, Co. Dublin. Video: Darragh Bambrick

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 14:22

A grey Dublin car park was filled with laughter and tears this morning as parents dropped their children off for the first day at school.

Tomás Ó Dúlaing, principal at Griffeen Valley Educate Together National School, bustled around the two junior infant classrooms, welcoming new arrivals at the Lucan school.

Mr Ó Dúlaing says parents were “willing to take a chance” and get involved in the school’s latest project where one junior group will be taught through Irish while the other is taught in English.

“We also teach them about equality and justice, morality and spirituality and we do a fair bit on ethics and environment,” he adds.

The room is bustling with activity, full of excited children accompanied by emotional parents. Mr Ó Dúlaing is worried about the child-teacher ratio in the school with 28 children in each classroom. He says children with special needs have also been forgotten.

“To single out students with special needs and say they are going to pay for this crisis has been the cruellest thing I have seen in almost three and a half decades as a teacher.”

He says Irish schools are in real need of extra special needs assistants and blames former minister for education Ruairí Quinn for cutbacks in the sector.

“When we look at what he’s done to kids with special needs, that will be his legacy and I think it’s appalling.”

Gillian Quann, who teaches the Irish language group, is busy introducing herself to her new students.

“It’s their first day of school but it’s our first day as well. It brings back all the memories of your very first day - your very first teacher, the tears.”

Ms Quann hopes to create a relaxed environment where she can get to know each individual child in her classroom.

“The first day is mostly free play judging all their different personalities, their characteristics, seeing what they like and what they don’t like.”

Nearby a woman is holding a newborn baby. Siobhán McGuirke is here to drop off her son James, the first of her children to start school.

“He was very upset this morning at home because he wanted to stay in his crèche,” she says.

“I said he was going to make lots of new friends and tell us all about it. He loves the idea of being able to pass on all that juicy gossip.”

As the parents slowly leave, Helen O’Farrell hovers near the doorway, camera in hand ready to capture these precious moments on film.

“It’s a big day, Holly is my youngest, she’s definitely the baby,” she says, adding that she’s in “a worse state” than her daughter.

Helen commutes from Celbridge every day, driving her three daughters to and from school in Lucan.

“We really wanted them to have the Educate Together ethos. Ireland is changing so much, I just didn’t want them going to a Catholic girls school like I did.”