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Which are the fastest growing schools – and which are down?

April 12, 2011

Which schools have seen a surge in pupil numbers over the past decade and which are most popular with parents, writes SEAN FLYNN

SCHOOL ENROLMENT figures provide a fascinating glimpse in parental choice. They help track which schools are seen as ‘successful’ and which ones are struggling to fill numbers. The lists published on this page track a decade of change in Irish education. They compare school enrolment figures for this school year with the position a decade ago.

The main features of the list include: – “Free’’ State-run schools which experienced a drop in enrolment during the Celtic Tiger have managed to reverse this trend in recent years. – Many VEC schools – especially those outside of Dublin are booming. Irish language schools have seen a surge in pupil numbers. – The popularity of fee-paying schools remains very resilient despite fees averaging €5,000 per year; – Schools which perform well in The Irish Times Feeder School Lists have shown a surge in pupil numbers.

Another feature of the data is the surge in pupil numbers in the post-Leaving Certificate colleges; these cater for students in the year or two after they leave secondary school. In Dublin alone, colleges of further education in Dún Laoghaire, Killester, Sallynoggin and Dundrum have seen enrolment increase by at least 50 per cent over the past decade. The fastest growing school on the list is Coláiste Chiaráin, Croom, about 20 minutes from Limerick city. On its hugely impressive website, it describes itself as the “school of the future.” In 2004, the headmaster, Noel Malone was awarded the Dell Technology Award for Excellence in Education, the first recipient outside the US. Remarkably, virtually a huge majority of of the top 30 fastest growing schools in the State are all in the VEC sector. All of these schools challenge those lazy cliches about the VEC.

The fastest growing school in Dublin is St Colmcille’s Community School in Knocklyon, an area of rapid population growth. Like many community schools in Dublin, the school has built a very strong local reputation since it was opened in 2000. The second-fastest growing school in Dublin is St Kevins CBS in Finglas is an interesting case study. The school suffered a severe decline in enrolment for decades but it has managed to dramatically turn this around in recent years.

Other Dublin schools which have reversed a decline in enrolment include Oatlands College, Stillorgan. Pupil numbers are up from 340 to over 500 and there is a long waiting list. This comes after a period during the boom when the school was squeezed by the huge number of “big brand” fee-paying schools in the area. Overall, the picture for Christian Brothers schools in Dublin is a mixed one. While places like St Kevin’s are booming, schools like O’Connells, St Joseph’s in Fairview and St Paul’s in Raheny are continuing to see declining pupil numbers. Many of these schools have been hugely successful in integrating newcomer children. Another school worthy of mention is St Brendan’s College, Dunboyne, Co Meath which has registered growth of 58 per cent in enrolment. St Brendan’s was featured on the successful RTÉ documentary The School last year.

Among fee-paying schools, the most striking feature is the 28 per cent growth registered by one of the more expensive schools in the State – St Gerard’s in Bray, Co Wicklow. Most of the big name schools have seen growth over the past decade including Gonzaga (up 11 per cent), Belvedere and CUS (both up 10 per cent ) and Blackrock College (up 4 per cent).

The published lists are based on Department of Education figures for the 2001-02 school year and the current school year. The percentage increase/decrease quoted represents the growth/decline in pupil numbers.

All schools with less than 200 pupils in either 2001 or 2010/11 have been excluded from the lists on this page – except for fee-paying schools. Broadly new schools in new areas have also been excluded.

Data on enrolment patterns in PLCs is available on irishtimes.com

The Irish Times