James is off to Campbell College :)

We’re delighted to have James going to what was the favourite school of all of us – Campbell College.

Despite scraping around to find logical reasons to justify the choice to the primary school principal, quite honestly we put it at the top of our list simply because it just felt nice and was somewhere that we all felt at home. As far as logic goes, they offer all the subjects that James is interested in academically, he was fired up by a number of the after school activities and the kids all knew what they were talking about in the demonstrations at the open day.

Although it’s a boys only school, that had nothing to do with our initial reason to go there. However, it does make quite a difference. As the principal said at one of the open days, the school is totally aimed at encouraging boys in everything that they do. Thus, the library is packed with books that boys like to read and the school activities are completely aimed at boys. Less obvious is that in a boys only environment, the boys don’t get turned off by “girly” subjects and activities so the home economics department turned out quite an attractive selection of delights on the open night and rather than having a choir with the typical 115 girls and five boys, it has a choir of 120 boys.

It might seem like a thing all schools would do but everyone (kids, teachers and the former alumni) at the open day took an interest in us and behaved as though we’d be enrolling James. There was none of the “we’re probably wasting our time” attitude that came across in many schools. I can appreciate that in many of the schools, the number of applications can far exceed the number enrolled (eg Lagan gets around 300 applications for 200 places) but behaving as though we would be enrolling in due course really made a big difference to our impression of the school. Even in the trivial interactions, it felt like James was being treated as a pupil there, if only for an afternoon and I guess that feeling of belonging is why it ended up at the top of our list.

One of the things that we wanted to do in each of the schools after the open day was to just have a wander around and rather than being slung out at the end of the open day, as happened in almost all of the schools, we were welcome to have that wander and had a long chat with one of the former pupils too. But the not being slung out was, for us, just another part of the welcoming attitude – “sure, it’s just an open day, but think of yourself as a pupil here if only for today”. Former pupils being there was a nice touch too, giving a connection to the parents as well as to the potential pupils.

On the open days with them, we never felt like they were just doing an open day because that’s what schools do these days but rather that they were showcasing the school – “hey, look at how great our school is”. That’s how it should be, but even among a number of the other excellent schools that we went to, that wasn’t the case and in many cases it felt that an open day was just another chore to do.

The reports on the school are a bit negative on the old class rooms but that’s one of the aspects that makes it feel like a school rather than a modern office block that some of the new build schools feel like. To us, I think that was part of the attraction. In too many cases, the thinking seems to be that a new school building will sort out the school but a school is the teachers and pupils, not the buildings. It was our interactions with the people that encouraged us to put Campbell at the top of our list.

James did the transfer tests at Campbell which was an interesting experience. To be honest, we only chose Campbell for the tests as it was handy for parking and they did both AQE and GL. However, even there, their care towards the pupils was very apparent as they didn’t just dump the kids in a sports hall for the tests as happens elsewhere but put them in proper classrooms and gave us all kinds of advice as to how to make sure that they were relaxed on the day. They didn’t have to do that but it was yet another aspect that appealed to us.

Anyway, we’re delighted that James can treat Campbell as home now and I hope that he can put across that feeling to some other kids out there when he participates in future open days.


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