Sandford Park school opens its doors to girls after 91 years

Being outnumbered by seven to one seems like dangerous odds but not to the 30 girls entering Sandford Park school in Ranelagh, Dublin, which has become co-educational after 91 years as a boys school.

None of them who took part in a familiarisation visit to the secondary school yesterday looked in any way fazed by the experience, despite the sharp imbalance between male and female enrolment.

A straw poll of the boys and girls at Sandford during the day delivered a 100 per cent result, with students giving the co-ed decision the thumbs up.

“It is really good, it is nice to have girls and boys,” said Lana Donohoe a first-year student who seemed well pleased with her visit.

Her sister Eleanor, who is entering third year at Sandford, was also happy, believing a small school promotes a nice atmosphere.


“I think it is a good idea, it is keeping up with the times,” suggested the school’s head boy William Doyle. He and his fellow prefects provided a calm reassurance that must have put the newcomers at ease.

Boys will dominate in terms of numbers with about 220 or so arriving this morning on the first day of the school year to the unfamiliar sight of girls wearing ties in the official school colours of yellow, green and purple.

In time, however, this will begin to balance out and the novelty of having girls’ changing rooms will pass.

“It is very exciting and very challenging,” said school principal Edith Byrne. When the idea was first put to parents the response was “very positive and very accepting”, something that made it easier for the board of governors to agree to the change.

Ms Byrne has been at the helm for 10 years and can track the decisions which brought about this fundamental change at Sandford.

The formal decision to go co-ed was finally taken last December, with the plan to switch by the next academic year. But the school authorities had realised that change was on the way and took account of this when investing in a new music centre and library and in the reconstruction of lavatories and other facilities.

Not under consideration was a change in uniform colours, with the first- to third- year boys uniforms of grey trousers, grey jumper and white shirt and the fourth to sixth years black trousers, black jumper and white shirt repeated for the girls.

They do have the option of going with trousers or a skirt, but all students complete the uniform with a green jacket and official school tie.

The school was founded in 1922, "at a time in Irish history that was fairly turbulent", Ms Byrne said. Its founder Alfred Le Peton had French and British connections and wanted something different. "It was founded on the French model of education, non-denominational with students of all and no religions. They were well ahead of their time with being non-denominational."

Not teaching religion was radical enough but the co-educational aspect that was also typical of the French approach was just that bit too far for Ireland at the time and so it was not introduced.

A number of factors made the shift to co-ed a reality with parental requests to provide a single school for sons and daughters, and also from Sandford graduates who had daughters and no sons.

“They thought they wanted that continuity,” Ms Byrne said. “There has also been a societal shift towards co-ed.”

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.