Parents prioritise reputation, location, and facilities when choosing a primary school

Parents prioritise reputation, location, and facilities when choosing a primary school

Children’s School Lives is a longitudinal study following 4,000 pupils across almost 200 primary schools in Ireland. File picture: iStock

A school’s reputation, proximity to home, and its facilities are among the factors rated as most important to parents when it comes to choosing a primary school.

The details are included in the latest round of research to be published as part of Children’s School Lives, a landmark study carried out by researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) on behalf of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Started in 2018, Children’s School Lives follows 4,000 children across almost 200 schools through their primary education to learn in detail about their experiences, including input from their educators and parents.

The latest release from the study focuses on the transition to ‘big school’, as children move from preschool into junior infants.

Parents' priorities

Almost 80% of parents said a school’s reputation or having a recommendation was ‘very important’ when it came to choosing a primary school, and a further 19% reported that it was ‘somewhat important’. A school local or close to home was ‘very important’ for 61% of parents and ‘somewhat important’ for 32%.

Issues related to school facilities were rated as ‘very important’ by 60% of parents, while the language of instruction was noted as ‘very important’ by 44%.

The study notes that parents were “almost equally split” on the importance of school ethos; 31% said the school ethos in terms of religious beliefs was ‘not at all important’; 36% said it was ‘somewhat important’, while a further 33% said it was ‘very important’. 

This may reflect the limited options available to parents, the study notes, given that 90% of primary schools are under Catholic patronage.

Children's responses

The study found that children were generally very positive about their experiences, saying they liked going to school, liked their teacher and had made good friends in class.

Children were asked about their feelings on their first day at school; Almost half (46%) reported feeling excited and a further 25% reported feeling happy. Almost a quarter reported feeling nervous, and 6% said they were bored.

Almost all Junior Infant children (99%) had attended an early setting at some stage before starting school.

Parents were mainly concerned about whether their child would make friends starting primary school, and about their child’s class size and level of independence.

Teachers and principals

Principals and teachers who took part in the study observed that some children were entering primary school with high levels of prior learning.

Opinions were mixed in relation to pre-academic skills. Almost half of the teachers (49%) surveyed believed it was unimportant for children to be able to count on school entry, while 44% felt it was important.

A third of teachers felt it was important for children to be able to recognise digits.

However, the vast majority of teachers rated social, emotional, and self-care skills as the most important for children starting primary school.

The findings emphasise the importance of preschool experiences in children’s school lives, according to Seaneen Sloan, a lead researcher on the study at the UCD School of Education.

“Our findings demonstrate parents’ appreciation of the preschool services available in Ireland and the funding provided for this through the ECCE programme,” she said. 

Dympna Devine, principal investigator, added that this study is a “testament to the strategic importance of continued state investment in early childhood education as a public good". 

Professor Devine said: “Such investment provides immediate support to families in a crucial period of child development, while building capacity longer term in our education system, and society, through targeted investment at a key transition point in children’s lives.”


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