Ireland’s most expensive school has opened its doors and is determined to “shake up” the country’s educational offering.
The Nord Anglia International School in Dublin, which opened in Leopardstown this September, charges up to €24,000 per annum for day pupils.
It has an open enrolment all year long and is aimed at children of mobile international executives, but it also hopes to attract Irish families seeking a “premium education”.
The “world-class” school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme which allows “flexible learning” of core subjects as well as extra-curricular activities.
The Nord Anglia school, which was previously Microsoft’s old headquarters, is decked out with state-of-the-art classrooms as well as recording studios, a dance hall, theatre, library, music pods as well as high-end metal and woodwork suites.
The school, which opened three weeks ago, currently has 30 part-time and full-time teachers and aims to keep the student-to-teacher ratio below 9:1.
While the school declined to comment on the exact number of students currently enrolled, the secondary year groups have up to 15 children, while there are up to six children in the Early Years Programme (ages 3 to 5).
Lisa Cannell, Head of Primary and the Early Years Programme told Independent.ie that the south Dublin facility is determined to shake up Ireland’s educational offering.
“Our world is changing, and it’s changing very quickly. We need to prepare our students and I don’t think state schools are currently doing that.
“We want to make sure learning is engaging and relevant. We want to teach our students life skills that they can actually apply.”
The primary school students study the core subjects of English, Maths, Arts, Languages (French, Irish, Spanish, Mandarin), PE, Geography, History, Culture Studies, Science and IT.
As the school’s motto is ‘come to the edge’, Ms Cannell said that students are also taught skills such as critical and independent thinking.
“The students are asked to look at someone who inspires them and then lead their own project in the school. It’s important that they have a voice and that we listen to them and their ideas. We hope they will inspire others with their leadership projects.”
Ms Cannell, who is originally from the UK but has taught in international schools across the world, said that the Early Years Programme for children aged between three and five focuses on the children’s interests.
“It’s very similar to montessori-style teaching where we let the children lead.”
For older children in the secondary programme, the curriculum is equally demanding.
Rita Bateson, who is originally from Blanchardstown in Dublin, is the Head of Secondary and Mathematics at Nord Anglia, and wrote five books of which the curriculum is based.
The students in the first four grades are taught eight subjects including Science, Design (Technology and Engineering), Arts, Maths, PHE (Physical and Health Education), Individuals and Societies (History, Geography, Finance, Religion, Ethics). They also have to do two languages (Irish, German, French, Spanish and Mandarin) – unless the student requires additional English support.
In grade 10 and 11, the students complete their Diploma – which is the equivalent of the Leaving Cert. The students choose six subjects – three honour level subjects and three at standard level.
Ms Bateson, who taught in schools around the world, said that while the students are expected to learn theorems, they are taught how they relate to a global context, rather than just memorising them.
“Everything has to be relevant and life-worthy. There is nothing that kids wont use in the future and if there is we have to justify it. We can’t just keep cramming facts into students that they’ll never learn again. We can all Google facts now, students have to be able to understand them.”
For example, Ms Bateson said that when teaching the students about statistics, the students learn much more than the mean, mode and median.
“We look at how statistics can be misleading in the press and fake news. We look at how results are analysed and how they can be skewed depending on how it is manipulated.”
One thing that makes the school different to Irish state schools is its impressive Performing Arts programme, which includes a collaboration with Juilliard in New York.
Hannah Picasso, the school’s Head of Performing Arts told Independent.ie that Nord Anglia stresses the importance that the arts are for everyone, not just for those who have had previous training.
“All of our students have music, dance and drama as part of their curriculum. Our motto is all about coming to the edge and seeing how far we can go.”
Ms Picasso, who is a conservatory-trained violinist, said that the students are given the opportunity to learn new instruments, as well as music composition.
“Our programme is centered on actively making music. They students are asked to be singers, to move, to create the entire time. They learn how to match pitch and have a sense of pulse. The music classes are very active, especially with the younger students.
“In secondary level, the students learn what makes a song, form and structure, and they are asked to compose. They will spend time in our keyboard lab composing. The IB programme is all about inquiry-driven learning and asking students to go deeper. I want them to be articulate and competent artists and make something that allows them to express themselves.”
The school is also preparing to launch a private lesson programme, where students can learn how to play new instruments from local musicians.
As well as a keyboard lab, the school has five music pods and a recording studio where students can take time to practise their instruments.
“Some students are in here at 7am to practise their instruments. I always tell my students they can fill their days with as much music as they want.”
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