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Charting a course for future of boarding schools

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Presentation all-girls boarding School, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

Presentation all-girls boarding School, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

Don Moloney/Press 22

Presentation all-girls boarding School, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

Single bedrooms with wi-fi are among the signs that Ireland's diminishing number of all-girl boarding schools are moving with the times to help ensure their survival.

The closure of the boarding facility at Our Lady's Bower, Athlone, Co Westmeath, from this month, leaves only five all-girls boarding schools: Rathdown School and Alexandra College, both Dublin, Ursuline Secondary School and Presentation Secondary School, both in Thurles, Co Tipperary, and the all-Irish Coláiste Ide in Dingle, Co Kerry.

Falling numbers, rising costs and limited resources were factors in the closure of Our Lady's Bower, but other schools insist that their future is bright.

With annual fees of €18,252, Rathdown is the country's most expensive all-girls boarding school. Boarders count for one in three of its students and the school has worked hard to develop its facilities to meet modern needs.

Rathdown principal, Anne Dowling, said traditional views about boarding school life are very different from the reality. "There are notions that the food is appalling, that you're hungry, that it's a very strict draconian regime - we have quite the opposite here."

With the option of boarding in small dorms for junior cycle and single rooms for senior cycle, demand for Rathdown is back at pre-recession levels.

"We already have sixth year waiting lists," she said.

"Senior boarders all have single-bed study rooms. It's like a little hotel with views over the sea and Dublin Mountains.

"The girls are allowed to study in their rooms but their grades are closely monitored and if they start to drop they go back into study hall."

Although boarding can be expensive, the daily structure it offers tends to be the aspect that parents find most appealing.

At Presentation Secondary School, Thurles, Co Tipperary, which has also upgraded its boarding facilities, boarding manager Yvonne Traynor said: "Parents like to think that the rigidity of the routine of study will guarantee their children will do better."

Boarders at Presentation do 30 minutes study in the morning, 90 minutes before tea, and two hours in the evening.

Ms Traynor said that one notable trend was that fifth year is an increasingly popular time for pupils to start boarding.

Anne Dowling insists that there "absolutely is a future for boarding schools. There is definitely a market for certain types of families and a lot of parents already have the plan in motion."

Irish Independent