Give Me A Crash Course In . . . feeder school lists
Parents get an idea of academic performance but experts say there is more to education
Secondary schools and parents were abuzz about rankings, league tables and statistics this week. What was that all about?
The annual feeder-schools results were published. They show how many students progressed to higher education this year, broken down by individual school. The greater the proportion of students in a school that go on to third level, the higher the ranking.
Let me guess: private schools are tops
Gaelscoileanna and fee-paying schools dominate rankings by the highest number of students graduating to third level. But a number of schools outside this traditional group also rank highly, including community and non-fee-paying schools.
So where will the doctors, lawyers and establishment figures of tomorrow come from?
When the figures are broken down to high-points courses, fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools in affluent areas consolidate their grip on the rankings. The top achievers were Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, a public Gaelscoil for boys, followed by the fee-paying Gonzaga College, in Ranelagh in Dublin, and Castleknock College, in Castleknock in Dublin. Most of the top 30, in fact, are fee-paying schools.
What’s the secret of their success?
Social class remains a major factor in school performance. In Dublin, for example, students in more affluent areas are progressing to college at a rate of up to four times that of those in disadvantaged areas. Researchers say it’s a combination of factors, among them higher expectations, highly motivated parents, access to grinds, and access to schools with greater resources and subject choice. But rankings are a far from perfect measure of academic performance. If students defer taking up a place at college for a year, they are then included in the following year’s progression figures. And if a class size has fallen year on year, these extra students can bump up the school’s rankings.
So you’re saying teaching doesn’t come into it
Tuition is crucial. In the case of the star performers among community schools, for example, many have embraced new ways of teaching and learning, including group work, active learning and real-time assessments of students’ performance. These are yielding dividends.
Surely, then, league tables are just a crude way of measuring schools against each other
The Department of Education and teachers’ unions oppose league tables on the basis that they give an incomplete picture of schools, especially those in disadvantaged areas, which face major challenges. The Irish Times was the first to publish this information. It did so on the basis that there was little or no transparency about how schools were run. Until then parents had to rely on rumour about how schools fared. The results of inspections were not even available. Now, at least, parents do have some form of insight into the academic performance of their local school.
It hardly seems fair
It is not ideal by any means. The information doesn’t show how many students progressed to post-Leaving Cert or training courses (often routes to third level). Neither does it reflect extracurricular activities or pastoral care. But it is the only information that colleges and education authorities supply – and parents have a right to access it.
So should I try to send my child to my nearest top-ranking school?
Many parents are attuned to factors such as the importance of teen mental health, of supports for those with additional needs, of sports facilities and of additional factors other than academic performance. Experts say the right school for your child is the one that will contribute positively to his or her development, academic results and general wellbeing.