Case study: 'Parents love the confidence of our students'
Extracurricular activities, a strong community spirit and instilling a sense of confidence in their students are all part of the winning formula that acting principal Norma Ni Luinneachain credits with Laurel Hill Colaiste FCJ's success.
According to research carried out by the Sunday Independent, the all-girls Catholic gaelscoil in Limerick is one of the best performing non-fee paying schools in the country. Over the past seven years, 99pc of its students have progressed to third-level education with 72pc of students going on to attend university. It is ranked ninth overall in the country.
Speaking from her office in Laurel Hill, Ms Ni Luinneachain explains that despite the Leaving Cert being a few short months away, the school is still a hive of activity.
"We have a huge amount going on here," she says. "Yesterday there was hockey, the choir and the orchestra are the major thing going on at the moment, we have a debate team out next week and we have a crowd going off to France on an exchange. In a school that isn't that big, we have just over 400 students, it's phenomenal the amount of things that go on here but it's all part of the community and the students love it."
Rather than discouraging Leaving Certs from continuing hobbies as exams approach, Norma sees the wide range of extracurricular activities the school offers its students as integral to the their success.
"They're really encouraged to continue with extracurricular activities so they end up being very balanced. Whether it's camogie or hockey or choir, they're giving that 100pc, and then when they're studying, they're giving that 100pc.There's a good work ethic."
Of course all these opportunities wouldn't be available to the girls of Laurel Hill if it wasn't for a staff that devote their free time to make it possible.
"On any particular evening in here you would find extra classes going on with particularly Leaving Cert students in classrooms up to an hour after school," explains Ms Ni Luinneachain. "There are always extracurricular activities too and they're always on weekends and on teachers' times, but they're very willing to do that because it's very much appreciated by the girls and by their parents.
"As a teacher you get rewarded for that as well as you do get to know the students on an extra level and you reap the rewards in the classroom as they know that you're extra committed to them achieving outside the academic side of things."
The sense of community that has fostered a strong support base in the school also aims to instil confidence in the young women.
"What people say to us, when we have our open days and the girls give tours to the sixth years and their parents, what they love is the confidence of the girls and their openness and how they're able to express themselves."
Confidence is a 'huge thing' in encouraging young women to go to college and the principal is currently focused on tackling gendered differences in terms of college choice.
Students are exposed to business and STEM subjects through programmes aimed at secondary school students at nearby third-level institutions such as UL and LIT. Ms Ni Luinneachain also says a high proportion of her students sit higher-level maths and students are encouraged to do extracurricular activities such as debating and public speaking as well as leadership programmes and social placements for transition years in order to create active citizens.
Norma acknowledges that while teenage boys may do better in co-ed education, girls do better in gender segregated schools. Why does she think girls have the edge?
"I think girls are quite competitive and that may have something to do with it."
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