We are now into the second week of the school term, and I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss school here in Ireland.
This is our second year in the formal school system. The school year runs from the first of September to the end of June, with a two-month summer break. Schools have a mid-term break around Halloween, two weeks at Christmas, a mid-term break in February, and a two week break surrounding Easter. Isaac is in Sr. Infants which is similar to first grade in the US. The first year of school is called Jr Infants. Isaac has the same teacher for both junior and senior infants, and will have the same set of classmates throughout primary school.
Public or Private?
Isaac attends a public, or National School, near our home. There are also private, or “fee-paying” schools in Ireland. However, we don’t have any private schools near us, so we opted to start in the National School system, with the thought that if we needed to make a change, we could do that later. We have been very happy with Isaac’s school. His teacher is wonderful, and being in the local school has afforded us the opportunity to make friends with other families in the area. Because there are so many multinational companies in our area, Isaac’s class is very international. There are children from France, the Philippines, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, in addition to his Irish classmates. Isaac is the only American in his class though.
Isaac’s school is a Catholic school. There are public schools in Ireland affiliated with the Catholic church, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), Christian Ethos/Non-Denominational, and schools unaffiliated with any religious belief. The students in Isaac’s class are primarily Catholic, but the school has a policy of admitting at least 30% non-Catholics, which is more reflective of the area.
Uniform, or not?
Nearly every school in Ireland, public or private, requires a uniform. Isaac is required to wear his crested tracksuit (sweatpants and sweatshirt with embroidered logo), plus the accompanying polo to school every day. Beginning next year, he will only be allowed to wear his tracksuit on PE days. The rest of the time, he will wear navy dress pants, white button-down shirt, tie and navy sweater with school crest (“jumper”). Girls can wear pants, or a skirt or pinafore (what the US would call a jumper), with white blouse/button down shirt, and sweater. Nearly all girls I see are wearing the skirt or pinafore. Although the shoes of kids in the younger grades vary widely, in the older grades, everyone is wearing black or navy dress shoes. If you go into the shoe stores here during the “back to school” sales, you see nothing but black, blue and brown dress shoes.
When students begin secondary school, the uniform becomes more formal, with boys required to wear a jacket and tie some days, and virtually all girls in skirts.
Typical School Day
The school day for the first two years is 8:50 – 1:30, with before and aftercare available onsite. The times vary slightly from school to school. After Jr and Sr Infants, the school day extends to 2:30 pm. As someone who is accustomed to the longer US school day, I was skeptical at first. The fact that they can get all the instruction in 4.5 hours is really impressive. Isaac’s classroom is intentionally “low-tech”. Although they have computers and iPads at their disposal, the teachers prefer a much more hands-on approach. I prefer the Montessori or Waldorf teaching philosophies, so the low-tech approach is just fine with me. Other parents chafe at it, so it’s all in personal preference.
During the day, students have two recesses: a 10-minute “walk and talk” break, and a longer 20-30 minute break after lunch. There is no playground at the school, which seems to be the norm here. The children play soccer, or other yard games. Most Irish schools do not have a cafeteria, or canteen. Rather, children bring their lunch every day, and eat lunch in the classroom. (I’ll write a post later about school lunches, and the interesting dynamics around that.)
During the day, they cover all the topics you would expect: reading, mathematics (which they call “maths” here), writing, science, religion, social studies/history, music. I love the focus on penmanship. Isaac will start learning cursive this year. His teacher also focuses on writing skills – she has the children writing and illustrating stories. The parents are required to purchase the schoolbooks each year for their child. In addition to the school books, Isaac’s school collects an “Art and Supply” fee from each child. This fee covers all of his school supplies for the year. I love this setup, because as the parent, I do not have to go to 6 different stores looking for items off the school supply list.
Children in Ireland also learn the Irish language as a part of the curriculum. In fact, if you live in Ireland you have the option of having your child(ren) educated entirely in Irish, at a Gaelscoil. As Brad and I do not know any Irish, and it is not spoken outside of Ireland, we chose not to send our kids to an Gaelscoil. (It was also a bit out of the way from where we live.) However, all of Isaac’s non-academic instruction, “Stand up”, “Take your seats”, “Line up at the door”, etc is conducted in Irish. As a result, Isaac speaks a lot more Irish than we do!
*As a general note, this post just serves to share our experience, which has been very positive. Just as in every country around the world, if you were to ask 5 different families, you would get 5 different experiences in school system. Some schools are longer, shorter, richer, poorer, single-sex, co-ed, and the list goes on. As in life, there is no ‘average’ experience. What other questions do you have?