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College's numbers up 50pc after switch to 'free' scheme

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Staff of Gormanstown College County Meath (from left), Gene Carron, Fr Liam Kelly, Vincent Dunne, Dermot Lavin Principal and Conor O'Brien pictured with 1st year pupils at the school

Staff of Gormanstown College County Meath (from left), Gene Carron, Fr Liam Kelly, Vincent Dunne, Dermot Lavin Principal and Conor O'Brien pictured with 1st year pupils at the school

Staff of Gormanstown College County Meath (from left), Gene Carron, Fr Liam Kelly, Vincent Dunne, Dermot Lavin Principal and Conor O'Brien pictured with 1st year pupils at the school

The transfer of the famous Gormanston College from fee-paying to the free education sector has triggered a 50pc rise in pupil numbers.

After years of falling enrolments, pupil numbers have risen from 204 last September to 304 this month, and the college expects 408 next year. First years have more than quadrupled, from 17 to 72.

The change means that annual day pupil fees of €6,000 have disappeared, and have been replaced with a voluntary contribution of €300 per student.

Franciscan College, Gormanston, is one of three former fee-paying schools to transfer to the Free Education Scheme this September. It means that there are no tuition fees for either day or boarding pupils. The timing of its announcement last January gave parents time to consider their options.

The creeping Dublin commuter belt has now arrived on the doorstep of the college's sylvan setting. New houses in and around the nearby town of Balbriggan and the village of Stamullen have created unprecedented demand for school places in east Meath.

Gormanston was in discussions with the Department of Education for two years and, according to Conor O'Brien, chairperson of the board of management, the key to the success of the transition was determining whether there was a local need for a school for up to 720 pupils.

The school's analysis of census figures showed that the second-level population of Balbriggan would more than double over a five-year period. In addition, there was no second-level provision in rapidly developing Stamullen, which will have a need for up to 400 places in the same period.

Mr O'Brien said while investment would be needed to make the school infrastructure fully fit for purpose, the department would not now have to invest up to €8m in new school accommodation in the area.

"Even with that essential remedial investment, the State will be making a significant saving over and above the new build option. That investment has already commenced and will be rolled out further in the short to medium term, jointly, with the department's planning unit," Mr O'Brien said.

He added that, apart from the capital restructuring, additional, independent funding would be required to fund and maintain projects such as the school's renowned sports complex, swimming pool, running track, pitches and tennis courts and its significant grounds.

Mr O'Brien said the school looked forward to the new era and a partnership with the department to make the college a beacon of educational provision in north Leinster.

Irish Independent