"Head to Head: Private schools generate elitism, highlight inequalities and serve to divide the country" – No!


Shane Cranley examines if private schools produce well rounded individuals or the sterotype social misfits.

Private schools are a bête noir of Irish life. Since the Government’s decision in 1967 to offer free education, a two-tiered system was founded. A widespread assumption is that the remaining private schools became bastions of privilege where arrogant knaves were taught Machiavellian ways of conducting themselves.

This could not be further from the reality. Private schools have a unique social outlook; they seek to mould young minds and bodies into well-rounded adults, developing not only their academic abilities, but all other talents and importantly, their social consciousness. This creates, as the Jesuits espouse, “people for others”.

The schools realise that they have to temper their students; it is very easy for these schools to slip into an arrogant, affluent and conceited mind frame.

Irish private schools strive to create rounded students with a well-balanced outlook on life. The basis for this is the school ethos. As parents make a clear choice that this is the kind of education they want for their children, a strong ethos can be fostered. This humanistic and mostly religious ethos is used as a means of shaping the students to be both aware of the world they live in and to be responsible to that.

The schools use the fact of the great opportunity afforded to these children as a basis for the carrying out of many charity works. Private schools have a long tradition of social justice. For example, every year pupils from private schools sleep out for homeless, walk to Cork and Galway for children’s hospitals, sell Christmas trees, decorate apartments and visit those who have no one in their lives. And while not every pupil chooses to take part, it fosters a sense of social responsibility in the school.

“They strive to create rounded students with a well-balanced outlook on life”

On a more societal level private schools have always offered scholarships. UCD’s most famous alumnus, James Joyce was a beneficiary of one such scholarship. Nowadays, the schemes are even more formal, with many private schools aiming for ten percent of pupils being on scholarship. This contributes to an atmosphere and an appreciation that those who attend are privileged and that therefore they owe something back.

Private schools pupils often have a strong sense of school pride. This can be seen on the sports pitch as in the stand, it is when this bravado is carried on to the bar and to the nightclub that it may become negative. Many prominent cases involving individuals from private schools have been exposed and dragged through the media. However, this is just sensationalism.

There is more scrutiny and a higher burden placed on private school pupils. I very much doubt the private schools of Ireland have the highest murder rates. This burden is not unwarranted but should be considered in weighing up in deciding if private school alumni are socially dysfunctional.

It is also perceived that private schools are cliquish and that they don’t mix in university to the exclusion of others, but this can be seen as a symptom of all schools. The pupils of large non-private schools who send to UCD such as Muckross Park College or Coláiste Eoin and Coláiste Íosagáin equally are cliquey. It is more down to the numbers of pupils from any school that attend a college or university than the fact they were public or private.

This idea of school pride and all that goes with this is more of a reflection of the unique Irish paradigm, where people put more pride in their secondary school than in their university. Until this changes, the people of this island will always identify with their secondary school, public or private, warts and all.

The mix of academic excellence, co-curricular activity and social responsibility creates well rounded and complete individuals that most importantly are socially aware. For every one bad egg there are infinite successes. The judges, doctors and statesmen of this country are products of this system. To talk ill of private schools is to talk ill of Ireland.