The phrase school tour has a whole new meaning for me now. It no longer involves buses or pocket money or treaty lunches, now it means simply, touring a school.
Yes, it is that time; I have to choose a secondary school for my eldest son. Anyone who knows my husband or I will be aware that decision making is not our strong point. So, for the past year I have been asking anyone who will listen for information about the second level schools within driving distance of our home. And agonising of course. As it happens, agonising is probably our great strength.
I could have just looked around me, and observed the pretty normal looking teenagers walking and cycling home from the schools in our vicinity. I could have watched them pick up their younger brothers from my children’s schools and checked the league tables in the newspaper to see all the exam results. But somehow, instead I found myself lapping up and memorising every scary sound bite about our local senior schools that I could lay my hands on.
I learnt that some schools only “take the cream, the very bright boys”, some “only kids who have been expelled from other schools”, some have pupils “known by the Gardai” and some produce “really cool people, in bands”. Why is that scary? Oh come on, don’t be silly, unless its U2, how on earth are they going to pay a mortgage?
Eventually I learnt that it might be wise, instead of gossiping over coffee and grasping at any nonsense I overheard in the school yard, it would probably be a good idea to look at the schools for myself. So, mortgage repayments of 2030 on my mind, I booked a tour of each the schools under consideration. Hopefully, my husband and I could be sensible adults and make a decision based on what we saw.
We saw science labs, “Note the light reflecting off the countertops” said the teacher guiding us, French classrooms, where my husband, unlike me, who looked blankly around, took in the square footage, the air vents and probably, the longitude and latitude. “Good natural light,” he muttered. We saw music rooms “a centre for excellence” said the Head of First Year, woodwork rooms, “a centre for excellence” said the same guy, and toilets “a centre for excellence?” we said quietly.
We heard about buddy systems, home school liaison officers, anti- bullying procedures and breakfasts served at school (my son LOVED that. “I’d really get toast?” he said with joy in his voice. The boy who turns down toast most mornings at home.)
We listened to the no-bullshit Principal “I don’t talk rubbish” he said, and his opposite number; “Under this roof, as we speak, each and every child is learning, being enriched, absorbing knowledge like a sponge.” I raised my eyes to heaven and immediately panicked that he had seen.
Each tour ended at the gym hall, where there was a chance to chat to other parents and, more importantly, get crisps for my weary toddler and bored younger boys. To be honest as I had all my (restless, noisy) children with me on three out of the four tours, “Where are the crisps?” was the question at the forefront of my mind for most of the time.
We got all the prospectuses, the application forms and the school rules. On close inspection, apart from font and layout, they were all very similar.
And after a brief kerfuffle about whether we should put “video games” under the “Interests” section, we filled in the form of the school of our choice. It’s in a drawer now, waiting for a Christmas card stamp, or a change of heart.