Private schools in Dublin

What are your options and is it worth it?
Choosing a school for your child is a big decision and one that weighs heavily on many parents and guardians. If you go for a fee-paying institution, what are your options? If you’re a parent who wants your child privately educated in Dublin, is it really worth paying for? What should you consider before making the call? And what sort of money are you looking at paying?

Here’s’s Q&A guide to fee-paying schools

How many fee-paying schools are there?
There are 33 fee-paying schools in Dublin, the majority of which are concentrated around the south city and county. Of these, 28 offer the Leaving Certificate exam, which is the standard admission test for Irish higher education institutions (HEIs) including universities and colleges.

This figure includes one, Nord Anglia – an innovative international school with a very low pupil-teacher ratio and aimed squarely at the children of CEOs and diplomats, which is due to open in September 2018.

Also included are two so-called “grind schools” – the Institute of Education on Leeson Street in Dublin city centre, and Ashfield College in Dundrum (south county Dublin) – which are focused on maximising a student’s exam results, tend to include a focus on study skills and which are also a popular option for students who are repeating the Leaving Cert.

Some schools offer boarding including Alexandra College, Blackrock College, St Columba’s College and the King’s Hospital School.

There are also a few just outside Dublin county including Newbridge College and grind school Leinster Senior College (both in Newbridge, Co Kildare), Clongowes Wood (Clane, Co Kildare) and St Gerard’s in Bray, Co. Wicklow (close to the border of Co. Dublin).

How does the Leaving Cert work?
Students are awarded a certain number of “points” for each grade which are combined to give a total number of points; the HEIs weigh up the demand for each course and set a points score. Students who have met the required number of points secure a place – medicine, for instance, is a high-demand course and students need high points to get into it, while the points requirements for arts courses have been falling over the years because the demand for places is falling.

Are there alternatives to the Leaving Cert?
Of the 33 schools, the Lycée Français d’Irlande in Clonskeagh, south county Dublin, offers only the international baccalauréat or the OIB (the baccalauréat delivered through French). When it opens its doors, Nord Anglia International School in Leopardstown, south county Dublin, will also offer only the IB. A third school, St Andrew’s in Booterstown, south county Dublin, offers a choice between the Leaving Cert and the IB.

What’s the academic performance of these schools like?
Ireland doesn’t publish League Tables as such, so there’s no way of directly accessing a school’s exam results. Several newspapers, including The Irish Times, publish annual “feeder school” lists which track the number of students from each school in the Republic of Ireland who secure a place in each of the HEIs.

Grind schools, which do not receive any public funding, are not included in these feeder school lists, although the Institute of Education publishes its own results and says fee-paying schools tend to perform well in these lists. In last year’s Irish Times Feeder School lists, 50 schools recorded a third-level progression rate of 100 per cent, and 14 of these were fee-paying schools in Dublin, while a further five were fee-paying schools in other parts of Ireland.

To put this in context, there are 711 post-primary schools in Ireland, so it’s safe to say that students who attend fee-paying schools are more likely to go to third-level, and especially more likely to secure a place in a high-points course (at an Irish university, a teacher training college the Dublin Institute of Technology or the Royal College of Surgeons).

Pupils of St Andrew’s on a visit to Amgen biopharmaceutical company

The top fee-paying schools in Dublin included:
#1: Holy Child School, Military Road, Killiney, Co Dublin (Catholic, girls)
#3: Sandford Park School, Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 (interdenominational, mixed gender)
#4: Gonzaga College, Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 (Catholic, boys)
#7: The Teresian School, 12 Stillorgan Road, Dublin 4 (Catholic, girls)
#17: The High School, Zion Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6 (Church of Ireland, mixed gender)
#18: Blackrock College, Blackrock, Co Dublin (Catholic, boys)
#23: Loreto High School, Beaufort, Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 (Catholic, girls)
#26: Belvedere College, Great Denmark Street, Dublin 1 (Catholic, boys)

Can the feeder school lists be trusted?
They’re not perfect, and they have their limitations. There is much more to a school than the metric of third-level progression alone and parents should also consider logging on to the Department of Education‘s website to check out whole-school evaluation and subject inspection reports, which will give a more-rounded view of a school’s supports for young people with additional learning needs, extracurricular offerings, religious ethos and more. It’s also strongly advised to attend an open day if possible.

The feeder school lists don’t measure the number of students going on to study apprenticeships and further education courses. But they do tell us about one all-important metric: the relative academic performance of schools. Irish HEIs only admit on the basis of Leaving Cert results (with the exception of a small number of courses such as art and architecture where a student’s portfolio is also taken into account) so they are still the best guide to how many students in a school will go on to third-level.

What other factors should parents and guardians consider, and what questions should they ask?
Extracurricular: Does the school offer a wide range of sports and social opportunities? Is it all rugby, or can your child indulge in drama, music, art, debating, chess? Are there initiatives to promote positive mental health and to prevent bullying?

Subject choice and class size: Ask your child what subjects interest them; are they into science, classics, art or music? What languages do they offer and will your child have a choice here? Ask the school what the average class size is: this will be smaller in fee-paying schools than in non-fee paying schools.

Religion and sexuality: A majority of post-primary schools in Ireland are religious, mainly Catholic, and opting out of religion can be challenging. One fee-paying Catholic school, Belvedere College, comes from the Jesuit tradition and is more focused on social justice and inclusion than on conservative religious positions. Schools will all generally say they are inclusive and welcoming, but it’s worth asking what their relationship and sexuality programme is like, including what outside agencies come into the school.

Gender: Of Dublin’s fee-paying schools, 12 are all-girls, 10 are all-boys and 11 are co-educational. Dublin’s fee-paying co-ed schools are, in general, much less likely to be Catholic. Research on the relative academic merits of fee-paying and single-sex schools is mixed, but there is solid evidence that co-education provides young people with a better social preparation.

What are the annual fees like?
We’ve included a small selection:
Nord Anglia: €24,000
St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham: €8,000
Blackrock College: €6,900
Gonzaga College: €6,015
Belvedere College: €5,690
The Teresian School: €5,360
John Scottus School: €4,300
Loreto High School: €3,900

Peter McGuire compiles the annual Irish Times feeder school lists and is a regular contributor to the paper’s education coverage

Published: 11th June 2018
Peter McGuire is a freelance features and news journalist. He also works a researcher and editor. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and the Huffington Post, and has also written for the Irish Examiner, Sunday Business Post and Irish Independent.