Giving secondary students a voice

St Nathy’s: The school where the tables have turned on the old parent-teacher model

St Nathy’s students get into the spirit of friendship week.

St Nathy’s students get into the spirit of friendship week.


Schools that want to get with the times can no longer afford to ignore the voice of students. Progressive and effective schools allow their students to form student councils and, ideally, they form a channel of communication between the council and the board of management.

But St Nathy’s in Roscommon was always ahead of the curve here. “When I joined the school in the year 2000, the school had a long-standing tradition of inviting both students and parents or guardians to the parent-teacher meeting, together,” says Geraldine Gildea, deputy principal at the school. “The arrangement facilitates an opportunity for honest and direct discussion with both parties about the students’ academic progress and general commitment to school life.”

The arrangement dates back to a time when St Nathy’s was a boarding and day school for boys. In 1995, it amalgamated with two other post-primary schools in the town: St Joseph’s and Ballaghaderreen. “Back then, the boys were on the premises when the meeting happened so it made sense for them to attend. But the school found that it worked, so it continued.”

Inspired by St Nathy’s, Dunmore Community School in Galway has changed to this system while in Dublin, Scoil Pobail Setanta in Clonsilla has pioneered the approach.

Do students really want to be there when their parents talk to their teachers? “We find the meetings quite productive and the benefit is that nothing gets lost in translation. The parents, teachers and students can collaborate on the best route forward, especially with regard to making informed choices such as suitability to subjects and levels,” says Gildea. “The discussions tend to be very open and it really helps everybody to communicate better. On top of this, it’s nice for students who are performing well too, because sometimes they can be taken for granted, but at the meeting they get positive affirmations about their work. I know that other schools who have adopted this approach have been hugely positive about the change.”

It’s not the only way that the school is empowering students. This year, they have shifted the student council appointments away from a “popularity contest” based on votes to one where the students have to state what skills they can bring to council and get nominations from peers and a teacher before the election takes place. “It makes them focus and think about how they can be agents for positive change,” says Gildea.

Factfile: St Nathy’s, Roscommon

Located beside the cathedral in the town of Ballaghaderreen on the Mayo/ Roscommon border, St Nathy’s is a co-education voluntary secondary school under the patronage of the diocese of Achonry. The school has 633 pupils.

Leaving Cert subject options: Accounting, agricultural science, applied maths, art, biology, business, chemistry, construction, design and communication graphics, economics, engineering, French, geography, history, home economics, music, physics, physics and chemistry and religious education.

Interesting fact: Established in 1810, St Nathy’s is one of the oldest schools in the country. Notable alumni include Michael Geary (former master of the Rotunda hospital) and Louis Walsh.