Top act with Duffy's circus - The Three Rs


Tom and Jamie Duffy have the life of every child's dreams - they live in a circus for half the year, and, apart from visiting schools dressed up as clowns, they don't go to school while the circus is on the road.

From the beginning of February to the end of October the boys have three two-hour sessions per week with a teacher from the nearest education centre taking part in the Circus and Fairground Support Service. Tom (8) and Jamie (5) are probably the first Duffy children in the long line since Tom Duffy's Circus was established in 1775 to be educated on the road.

Stephanie Duffy, the boys' mother, is full of praise for the service; there is no way she could send her sons away to boarding school or to stay with somebody: "At least you know this way that they are on track and getting the proper education that they deserve.

"Wherever we are, we ring up the nearest education centre and there's usually two or three teachers that work from there. Depending on whose turn it is that week, one of the teachers will come out to us." The children have their schoolbooks and do the same work that other children would be doing in school. What they've done goes down in a file so the next teacher they have will know what work was done on the previous lesson.

There are people from seven countries working on this year's show and communicating with all of them is the norm for Tom and Jamie. Because of this, Stephanie says they are more communicative than most children of their age. "They find it no problem to have a different teacher every week, because they meet new people every year anyway," she says.

For the winter months, Tom, Jamie and their parents, Stephanie and David, are based in Navan, Co Meath. The boys go to the local school, have friends over, and "just become regular kids at that time of year," says Stephanie.

They like the two different ways of learning and Stephanie likes the interactive aspect of schooling in the wintertime: "They get to know lots of different kids of their own age and they go to their friends' houses and their friends come to our place. It is just a different way of looking at it for that time of year."

According to Stephanie, the children are usually ahead of their schoolgoing peers: "Really, when you look at it, it's just like having private tuition. It's two children with one teacher for six hours a week. It's more intense," she says. There are five children on the scheme and there is one teacher to every two children.

If, for some reason, a teacher can't come out to visit them, or if they aren't near an education centre, Stephanie just goes through the books with them for the same amount of time. The boys "absolutely love" the private tuition. "A different teacher each week doesn't faze them at all. They know them all well and they look forward to it."

Tom and Jamie's schooling is very different to what their father David experienced. He was educated in normal schools and sent to live with an aunt in Dublin for the school term. "That was very difficult. He didn't like it because he was away from his parents," says Stephanie. David's parents collected him every weekend; it was essentially like boarding school but with family.

"I think this is the ideal way of doing it," says Stephanie of her sons' educational arrangements. "You're not splitting up families and the children are still getting their education. It's an absolutely brilliant scheme."

This year a scheme is being set up to cater for the secondlevel education needs of circus and fairground children. Stephanie would like them to stay in the circus, but, she says, "that's why they are having an education, it's up to themselves when it comes down to it."