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Who will pay up to €24,000 to attend the State’s most expensive school?

Nord Anglia may well have a real impact in shaking up Ireland’s educational offering

The arrival of the country’s most expensive school is a sign of what is likely to be a major new growth area: education targeted at children of mobile international executives.

Nord Anglia International School Dublin, which is set to open its doors in the former headquarters of Microsoft at Leopardstown in September, hopes uncertainty linked to the UK's departure from the EU will lead to a "Brexit bounce" as executives re-locate here.

But with fees of up to €24,000 for day pupils, it begs the question: who will be able to afford to go there?

Price is unlikely to be an obstacle for children of executives, diplomats and other mobile businesspeople whose employers tend to offer education as part of their salary packages.


However, it also hopes to attract Irish families seeking a “premium” education for their children.

Its fees, however, are three times more expensive than day pupil fees charged by even the most expensive Dublin private schools such as St Columba's Colleges (€8,000 per year), Sutton Park School (€7,900 per year) and Alexandra College (€7,241 per year).

Paul Crute, the founding principal of Nord Anglia International School Dublin, says numbers enrolled already are made up of Irish students, along with the children of international executives and expats who are living or relocating to Ireland.

“We would not provide a breakdown on this, but suffice to say, we have been delighted with the interest to date from Irish families, international families, many corporate organisations and embassy officials,” he says.

International Baccalaureate

Most principals of private schools in south Dublin contacted by The Irish Times do not see the school as a major threat, given that most are heavily over-subscribed already.

But where the new school may well have a real impact, say some, is in shaking up our educational offering.

I think Irish parents would need a lot of convincing, however. And at €24,000, many will think twice"

The school will not offer the Junior or Leaving Cert. Instead, it will deliver the International Baccalaureate (IB), the fastest growing curriculum in the world which aims to foster the kind of 21st century skills which, experts say, will be needed in the modern workplace.

Arthur Godsil, the former principal of St Andrew's College in Dublin, says it stands in stark contrast to the Leaving Cert.

“It’s a different approach to education: young people are architects of their own learning and where teachers act as guides. It fosters the kind of skills young people will need in the future, when robots are projected to take over millions of jobs,” says Godsil, who now runs an education consultancy firm.

“The Leaving Cert doesn’t do that. It’s not designed for learners; it’s for people who are lucky and who chose the right poet that came up in the English exam or who were able to repeat the notes they learned off . . . that’s not learning.”

St Columba’s in Dublin is one of the schools which, in theory, is in competition with Nord Anglia.

It has significant numbers of international students and charges €8,000 a year for day pupils, making it the closest rival on price.

Mark Boobbyer, the school principal of St Columba's, says the school's reliance of boarding pupils means he doesn't see Nord Anglia as a threat. However, he does see the appeal of the International Baccalaureate.

“It’s the best quality around; it’s broad and its rigorous. If we started from scratch, I’d be very much in favour of it. It’s a philosophy of learning, rather than something that punches out exam results.

“I think Irish parents would need a lot of convincing, however. And at €24,000, many will think twice. They are too familiar with the Leaving Cert. Maybe some with international backgrounds might be interested, but I suspect we’ll see mostly children of international executives going to Nord Anglia.”

Defence of the Leaving Cert

Many principals defend the Leaving Cert and say it is unfairly depicted as a high-stakes memory test.

They point to quiet changes introduced to subjects over recent years which place a much greater emphasis on critical thinking and project work and also to recent research which found that exams are not nearly as predictable as they are often portrayed to be.

Policymakers also point out that the process of reforming the senior cycle is underway with a review involving a pilot group of 40 schools. Significant reforms, however, could take years before they enter the classroom.

Perhaps a bigger challenge to take up of the International Baccalaureate locally is the perception that it is less generous in terms of CAO points than the Leaving Cert.

The Leaving Cert, sadly, is well past its sell-by date and very content-driven. Critical thinking is crucial nowadays"

It allows students to focus on fewer subjects and in greater depth. While students take on six subjects, only three are at a higher level (though higher and standard level are awarded equal points).

These higher level subjects are at a first-year university level, while the standard level subjects are at a level slightly lower than higher level in the Leaving Cert.

Crute says the programme is respected by the “finest universities all around the world, from Harvard to Oxford”.

“We have started the process of engagement with universities in Ireland, including Trinity College Dublin, to ensure appropriate equivalence between the IB and the Irish Leaving Certificate,” he says.

“We would be delighted to play our part in Ireland to add value based on our global experience to support Ireland as Ireland builds its leadership position in education.”

Godsil says the introduction of the International Baccalaureate could be the spark that is needed to speed up reform.

“I think it will put pressure on Irish learning systems and schools, which consistently look at content and curriculum. I maintain that curriculum will die. What’s important is that we look at how we develop skills.

“The Leaving Cert, sadly, is well past its sell-by date and very content-driven. Critical thinking is crucial nowadays.”

Private school fees: how they compare

Nord Anglia International School, Dublin: €24,000

St Columba’s College, Dublin 16: €8,000

Sutton Park School, Dublin 13: €7,900

Alexandra College, Dublin 6: €7,241

Sandford Park School, Dublin 6: €7,150

St Gerard's, Co Wicklow: €7,150

Rathdown School, Co Dublin: €6,950

Blackrock College, Co Dublin: €6,900

Castleknock College, Dublin 15: €6,116

Gonzaga College, Dublin 6: €6,015