Educate Together at Second-level: A Parent’s Perspective

My name is Maeve. I am a parent of three children. my youngest attends a primary school in Wicklow Town, and my two older sons attend North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary school in Bray, one in  First Year and one in Third Year.  I thought it might be useful to share my experience with you of having children in an Educate Together Secondary School.

My decision to send my oldest son Luke to the Educate Together Secondary School in Bray wasn’t one I made hastily or easily. I felt an extra element of pressure in choosing a secondary school compared to what I had felt when I chose a primary school for my children.  For me, choosing my children’s primary school mainly came down to their happiness. I wanted somewhere where they would be happy.

Whereas, with choosing a secondary school, I felt I needed to consider a whole other list of priorities. Mainly, will this school help my child reach their full potential? Will this school prepare my child for college, the work force, and the life that lies ahead of him?

It was these priorities that brought me to Educate Together.

Educate Together Secondary Schools offer students the traditional junior cycle and leaving certificate. They provide all the required mandatory subjects, and most of the same optional subjects you get at any other secondary school, such as Woodwork, Business Studies, Technology and Art. 

But, they also offer, so much more. They are making strides in moving away from the Irish system of “teaching to the test”. Teaching our young people to purely develop the skill of regurgitating information in the leaving cert does not prepare them properly for life. Educate Together not only recognise this, but they are actually addressing the gaps in this ineffective style of education. These Gaps become particularly obvious at third level. I have friends that lecture at third level, and I am aware of the stark reality that on average, one in every six first year students in Ireland drops out of their college course.

There is also a very serious anxiety epidemic within our third level institutions. So, while I obviously recognise the importance and value of the leaving cert as a necessary door into third level education. I also want my children to have a balanced and holistic education that prepares them for life beyond that one exam.

Educate Together places an emphasis on students developing skills such as creative and critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership. These are skills I want my children to have! Especially considering the work force that their generation is entering. One, where people will need to be adaptable and capable of managing possibly, many, many, career changes.

I want my children to be inspired, as well as educated. I want them to be aware, respectful and confident members of society. And I feel incredibly lucky to have found a school where these attributes are not only valued but nurtured.

There is considerable weight given to the children’s wellbeing in academic pursuits and in general North Wicklow Educate Together. This is evident in all of the interactions staff have with their students. I remember when Luke was in First Year speaking to a teacher about how I felt disappointed at an exam result in one of his classes. The teacher reassured me, and explained that it was a tough exam paper. And then asked me a question that threw me initially, and seemed a little disconnected to what we were discussing: was Luke happy in school? I thought about it for a second or two, and the answer was definitely yes. Luke loved and still loves school. The teacher explained to me that that was of paramount importance. And that research shows that statically, happy children, perform better academically. That teacher’s, scientifically based consideration of my son’s happiness, blew my mind! I finished the conversation feeling a deep sense of appreciation that Luke was in the school he is in. A school where teachers think and teach outside the box, and value my son’s happiness.

In Bray, every child in the school is automatically a member of the student council. So everyone with an interest is free to participate. Last spring the then student council requested that the school facilitate a meeting with the company that service the school canteen – The School Food Company. Jonathan (our wonderful principal) listened to their reasoning and set up the meeting. The students put forward their case that they did not want to use plastic cutlery, plastic water bottles or other single use plastic materials with their food purchased in the canteen and asked The School Food Company if they could consider more ethically minded alternatives. The School Food Company listened to their arguments and took the suggestions on board, and this year the canteen kicked off the school year on a journey to becoming a single use plastic free zone! I felt this was an awesome example of the school not only talking the talk but walking the walk… encouraging students to actively pursue things that they are passionate about.

One of the questions I get asked a lot about my children attending an Educate Together Secondary School is: are there any after school activities? So just in case anyone was wondering – yes there is! There is actually a brilliant variety of both lunch time and after school activities such as football, basketball, ultimate Frisbee, Dramatic Performance, Photography, band club and this year they have introduced Mah-jong Club (which is an old Chinese game using tiles) and also Schools Action Climate Network Group. The school is passionate about actively encouraging the students to join in these activities as they feel it deepens their sense of being part of the school community and also promotes friendships.

I can really and truly put my hand on my heart and tell you that I have no regrets about my decision to send Luke and James to an Educate Together Secondary School. I am so proud of the young men they are growing into. And I am so appreciative of their principal Jonathan, the staff in North Wicklow ETSS, and Educate Together for giving them the school that I wish I could have gone to.