‘Brexit is creating opportunities for our school’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists Peter and Una Kearns of the Institute of Education

Una and Peter Kearns, the Institute of Education – their father Raymond, founded the school in 1969

The Institute of Education celebrates 50 years in business this year and remains very much a family affair. Founded by Raymond Kearns in 1969, the business is now run by his children Peter and Una and has evolved to become the State's largest private school, employing almost 100 teachers with a team of 60 support staff.

Una, a UCD graduate who cut her teeth in human resources with Diageo and Bank of Ireland, and Peter, a chartered accountant who previously worked in KPMG and subsequently an investment bank, have managed the school for the past 15 years with a shared ambition for the institute to remain one of Ireland's leading schools.

The multidenominational, co-educational facility on Dublin’s Leeson Street offers a range of 25 subjects, as well as a choice of co-curricular activities, including philosophy, creative writing, debating and film studies.

The school is perhaps best known for its exam preparation courses with almost 5,000 students attending to prepare for State exams every year. The institute estimates that more than 500,000 students have passed through its doors over the course of its half century in business – no small feat for a school that grew from modest beginnings when Raymond Kearns saw an opportunity to help students with mathematics.


What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

The recession posed a very real threat to our business. As a self-financing second-level school, we do not receive any State funding and are totally dependent on fees for our income. Our enrolment reduced but we remained loyal to our students and staff, and did not divert our focus from the delivery of excellence in education. We also realised the opportunity at the time to invest for the future, increase our capacity and upgrade our facilities.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

In 1979 we welcomed the first of our full-time students. There were 10 in total, each of whom was seeking to improve their grades as they repeated their Leaving Certificate exams. This was the foundation for what we are today – a full-time school for 4th, 5th and 6th year students.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

Traditionally, we have provided tuition for the Leaving Certificate exams. Over the past number of years, the Junior Certificate curriculum has changed and evolved. As a result of these changes, we are now experiencing a greater demand for our programmes and courses from junior cycle students. This is an area of our school that we envisage will continue to grow over the coming years.

How has Brexit impacted your business?

Brexit is creating opportunities for our school. International students consider Ireland as a destination for education because of our approach and the fact that we are English speaking. In addition, Brexit has seen some families relocating to Ireland. Many of these families are seeking educational opportunities for their children who wish to enter the Irish third-level system.

What is the one piece of advice you would give Government to stimulate the economy?

Build upwards in the city centre. Dublin is an international cosmopolitan city, with a growing population. In order to compete on a global stage, we need to create more living and office capacity in our city centre. We also need to plan and develop suitable infrastructure to sustain us for the next 50-100 years. Addressing this issue will lead to further investment and greater sustainability.

What motivates you to keep performing at your best?

We love working with great teachers and students and when you work with such passionate people, keeping motivated is not a problem.

We believe in what we are doing and know we are making a difference to our students’ lives. We have the strength of 50 years’ experience behind us and we want to ensure that the institute remains the leader of educational innovation and progressive learning solutions.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business