News School League Tables

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'It's a real team effort here - everyone is involved'

Some of this year’s Leaving Certificate class from Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal. Photo: Brian McDaid
Some of this year’s Leaving Certificate class from Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal. Photo: Brian McDaid
Principal Seamus O Briain at Pobailscoil Ghaoth Dobhair. Photo: Brian McDaid

Greg Harkin

There's a buzz, a vibe even, when you walk through the doors of Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair.

It's set in a spectacular location which draws tourists and lovers of the Irish language from all over the world.

But the linguists aren't the only people improving their education - the school in the west Donegal Gaeltacht is among the most improved in the country.

For three out of the past four years, every pupil sitting the Leaving Cert went on to third-level education.

The figures are remarkable when set against the equivalent performances in 2009 (68pc), 2010 (77pc) and 2011 (53pc).

In 2012 it was 100pc, 2013 a slight dip to 95pc and for the past two years there have been two more 100pc achievements.

"It's the atmosphere which we have here now," says Séamus Ó Briain, principal of this all-Irish language secondary.

There are 379 pupils this year, which is a rise of 40 on the year before.

"Pupils and teachers work with each other, there is good craic and a relaxed atmosphere and the pupils and teachers have bought into that," says Mr Ó Briain.

"With that comes responsibilities and everyone just gets it."

Pop music blares from 'An Chistin' where Transition Year students are making profiteroles. Home Economics was never as cool as this.

But there has to be more to this?You dig deeper - over a profiteroles tasting session - and you find out there is. It appears the lights don't go out at this school until 9pm on most evenings. Teachers lay on extra classes - there is maths on Saturday mornings - to help their pupils achieve their goals.

Príomhoide Ó Briain teaches 10 hours extra so that the school can retain 12 hours a week for a careers teacher, whose hours were cut by the Department of Education.

Gaoth Dobhair has a shocking 25pc rate of unemployment and emigration has been rampant.

All the primary feeder schools are designated DEIS schools - they get extra funding from the department because of the economic circumstances of the area. But Pobailscoil Ghaoth Dobhair lost its DEIS status because its results were too good.

"Unfortunately we are victims of our own success," says Mr Ó Briain. "One of the criteria (for DEIS) is results and our results are very good now, so we lost that funding and that's difficult.

"We teach French and would love to add German, but we just can't. We lost two and-a-half teachers with the funding cut."

Like most schools, his establishment asks for a voluntary contribution from parents once a year. They ask for just €25 to cover the costs of school diaries and photocopies, a fraction of what most schools ask for. The economic recovery talked about on the east coast is not as apparent in this far flung corner of the north-west.

Despite this, every one of the school's 43 Leaving Cert students of 2015 went on to third-level education - to Trinity, DCU, NUI Galway and Letterkenny IT among others.

So there is no pressure on the 60 taking the Leaving Cert this year? "No," laughs Cathal Ó Curráin, (17), an All-Ireland winning singer, fiddle and banjo player who wants to study music at Limerick.

"There's a great atmosphere in the school. We have craic but we also know we have to study."

Classmate Lucaí Russell, also 17, hopes to become a biology teacher via either Maynooth or Limerick.

"We have a great relationship with the teachers here. They would stay on after school and we would be here until after 7pm or later some nights with the teachers helping us out," she says.

The teachers here, it seems, go way beyond the call of duty, working loads of unpaid extra hours so that their pupils get the best starts in their adult lives.

The extra-curricular programme is also key, says the principal, whose pupils include Michael Carroll, last year's county football minor captain who made his debut for the seniors this month, and the U17 Ireland soccer captain Daire Ó Baoill.

The school has won countless All-Ireland music and drama awards and excels at athletics, soccer and GAA.

"They (the pupils) know they need a structure to achieve their goals in sport, music, and other activities and they bring both that desire and that structure to their studies," says Mr O Briain.

"It all helps to promote a good motivational working atmosphere. We care for them all regardless of ability, and develop them spiritually, morally; it's not all down to education. It's all about building blocks - taking everyone on board.

"The door is always open for students, teachers, parents. When we all achieve things, it's a team effort involving everyone.

"There's enormous job satisfaction. We follow our students wherever they go - whether that is into law, medicine, engineering, the performing arts - right through the whole spectrum."

The class of 2016 has high standards to follow; last year almost a third of pupils achieved between 500 and 600 points.

Somehow, you suspect, it isn't a bother to them. You can feel it in the atmosphere.

Sunday Independent

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