Tuesday 25 June 2019

Case study: 'People have started to think about boarding school again'

Cistercian pupils Conor Power, Lorcan McDonnell, Jack Gilligan and Luke Garry
Cistercian pupils Conor Power, Lorcan McDonnell, Jack Gilligan and Luke Garry
Brendan Feehan, headmaster of Cistercian College, Roscrea, is optimistic about the future of the school, where enrolments have been growing. Photo: Sportsfile
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Seven-day boarding schools have become a rarity on the Irish educational landscape but at Cistercian College, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, principal Brendan Feehan sees a growing appetite from a new generation of parents.

The school, whose alumni include former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, former Tanaiste Dick Spring and horse trainer Willie Mullins, is one of just three all-boys' seven-day boarders, and remains under the trusteeship of the Cistercian monks.

Falling enrolments painted a bleak picture, but a determined battle against the tide became evident three years ago when the school came to Dublin to sell itself to a wider audience and launched a remodelled Transition Year programme.

When the new principal took over the following year, the same get up and go attitude marked a conversation between with his sports director: he told him he wanted to win the senior cup, the most prized schools rugby trophy.

A little over 12 months later they did just that, quite a feat by a team drawn from a pool of pupils numbering less than one-fifth of enrolments in rugby titans such as Blackrock and Belvedere.

That can-do victory tells a broader story about developments at the €13,150 a year school, where enrolments have risen to a current level of 185, and are set to keep growing.

Changes have covered both the living environment for teenage boys and the approach to academic activities.

"We had to reimagine seven-day boarding and make the students the centre of everything," said Mr Feehan. Creature comforts include a TV and sofas in the sixth-year dorm.

At curriculum level, a personalised learning plan is drawn up for every student, and Saturday morning classes have been moved to other times to make way for a more university-style approach. In that slot, classwork is reinforced.

Brendan Feehan is optimistic about the future. His students come from all over the country, with many from the Midlands, Mayo and Galway but he sees new trend of demand from the east of the country, such as Dublin and Kildare, and more urban areas. "People have started to think about boarding school again," he says. "There are definitely people considering it who would not have considered it before".

Irish Independent

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