The Dublin Academy providing a top-class education for Leaving Cert students
Technology accelerated excellence during the pandemic at The Dublin Academy of Education for a better-than-ever learning experience for fifth- and sixth-year students
Teacher Ronan Murdock with students of The Dublin Academy of Education, which is based in Stillorgan and provides a full-time fifth and sixth year day school.
The ease with which The Dublin Academy of Education adapted to lockdown was reassuring to parents and students alike.
Helped by its in-house technology team, it was able to release hundreds of hours of new and existing pre-recorded lessons and launch live interactive classes by video link. As a result, not a single minute of course time was missed.
More than that, says school principal, Ciaran Hartigan, it ensured both continuity and engagement for students at a difficult time.
The Academy, which is based in Stillorgan and provides a full-time fifth and sixth year day school, is well positioned to cope with any ongoing impact the coronavirus may have on education. Its innovative learning management system can pivot from traditional classroom to remote learning seamlessly.
The school offers 23 subjects to Leaving Certificate level and provided 600 hours of video-based teaching throughout the school closure period.
Students, who can choose to study either a two-year, fifth- and sixth-year programme, or a one-year accelerated sixth-year programme, benefitted from an online assessment and marking platform too.
Course work submitted by students, uploaded via smartphone, was assessed online and returned, including marks and feedback, in under an hour.
Students also had online tutorials and ‘check-ins’, to ensure they were making the transition to their new online learning environment with ease. This helped to reduce anxiety and maintain routine.
The school’s success is reflected in the results achieved in fifth year summer exams, which were outsourced for correction and were simply outstanding, says Ciaran Hartigan.
Students here call teachers by their first name, in a relaxed, informal environment. We are advocates for our students, not authority figures
It means that regardless of any government guidance for the new school year, The Dublin Academy of Education can accommodate them – including a return to lockdown – with ease.
Origins and growth
The school originated a decade ago as The Dublin School of Maths, a specialist maths grind school. Its success led it to grind tuition across a range of Junior and Leaving Certificate subjects.
Growing demand saw it launch as a fully-fledged fifth and sixth year day school in September 2018. Today it provides small group learning with an average of 25 students per class, in spacious classrooms. Its size and layout means it is well positioned to cope with social distancing.
Small classes also enable better interaction between students and teachers and stronger personal relationships. Always a vital ingredient in a positive learning environment, this is even more important to students now given the fact that predicted grades may be used for next year’s Leaving Certificate too.
Positive interaction with teachers is a huge part of its success. “Students here call teachers by their first name, in a relaxed, informal environment. We are advocates for our students, not authority figures,” says Hartigan, who spent more than 20 years teaching in the state school system.
Many students choose The Dublin Academy because its subject option flexibility enables them to take any combination of subjects they like. It is free from the timetabling constraints that most schools must operate under, and even runs classes in the evenings. This means students can pick a schedule that suits them and receive an equally high standard of teaching in all subjects.
“From feedback, we know that the subject options we offer are a big part of the reason students come here but they talk, first and foremost, about the quality of the teachers,” Hartigan says.
Head of fifth- and sixth-year maths, Rob Browne, has been teaching higher level maths since the school’s origins. He worked in the state school sector for many years and, like Hartigan, seized the opportunity to join the faculty.
“A very different kind of education”
“It offers a very different kind of education, the kind that most of us got into teaching to provide,” he explains. In some schools ancillary duties mean teachers must spread themselves “very thin”, he says. They may have to teach subjects to a variety of age groups, or subjects that are not their own first choice.
“As a teacher, that doesn’t give you the scope to provide what you want to provide,” he says. “I came on board to be a teacher of fifth and sixth year higher level maths, full stop. My day is about teaching and nothing else. That means I have gaps in my timetable to sit and talk with students, to take them out of class for one-on-one support or to run extra classes. In traditional school settings we talk about bringing children out for additional help, here we can do it to give gifted students an opportunity to stretch.”
His students have two maths teachers, as well as teaching assistants, to help them achieve their education goals. “Students feel very well supported here,” he says.
The lockdown has accelerated the Academy’s existing view of how technology can best aid learning. “The traditional model is that class time is spent with the teacher giving a lesson and then the student goes home and works on it on their own with no one around to help them if they get stuck,” explains Browne.
“It’s much better to flip that so that students can view a pre-recorded class, at their own pace at home, and then come to class to practice. In a subject like maths, which students sometimes struggle with, often it’s not a question of capability but of confidence. Where a teacher really earns their keep is by being on hand, at the right time, to say ‘Keep going, you’re on the right track’,” he says.
“I’d be very sceptical now of any school that goes back to the way things were. The pandemic has shown us where the weaknesses in the education system lie.”
To talk to the full-time school admissions team, see dublinacademy.ie