County Limerick school looks to future with girls

GLENSTAL Abbey School are breaking new ground by admitting girls for the first time and building a €6m classroom extension.

GLENSTAL Abbey School are breaking new ground by admitting girls for the first time and building a €6m classroom extension.

The move to teach girls follows the decision to allow day boarders in September

Abbot of Glenstal and former principal of the school currently ranked number one in the annual Sunday Times list, Mark Patrick Hederman, said they now favour a move towards co-education.

“In the future we would hope to have girls and boys. Now, you can’t really do that unless you go day [pupils] and you can’t do it unless you have an adequate number of girls, just to have a token few is no use so we are experimenting with day pupils,” said Mark, who prefers to be called by his first name.

There was a waiting list for day boarders this year but the Benedictine school wanted to keep numbers small.

“We only have five boarders in first year and it is working well so far. And then we will see whether it is possible to have girls, but that would happen in fifth year and sixth year to start with - the other way around.

“In order to do that you have to have the facilities which we are now building,” said Mark, who adds that girls won’t be attending the Murroe school for a number of years.

But work has already commenced on site to cater for the increase in numbers in the future. Currently there are around 190 boys enrolled and numbers haven’t been affected by the recession, unlike some other Irish boarding schools. Current fees for boarders are €15,100, according to the school website.

The €6m three storey classroom extension designed by Limerick architects, Thompson’s and built by LM Keating is due to be finished in the new term.

The state-of-the-art academic block will have extra teaching and study rooms and include specialist areas for science, art, IT, music and sport.

“It won’t be very obvious, but it will be a new build against the castle, a very elegant façade, mostly glass,” said Mark.

Older out-buildings will be demolished and pre-fabs also cleared.

In years to come numbers will increase but never above 300. In the abbot’s recently released book – The Boy in the Bubble – he attacks the Irish education system

He believes the Leaving Cert in its current form should be scrapped, school holidays are too long and class sizes should be smaller.

Around 15 is the average class size in Glenstal and the abbot says “small is beautiful”.

“That is what our theory of education is, you have to actually know every single person and each person individually as a human being, which you can’t do if you have got 500, 600 plus pupils in a school,” said Mark.

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