School opened for one pupil to welcome 115 next term

A primary school that had just one pupil when it opened three years ago will have more than 100 children in a few months.

Some of Scoil Aoife's 60-plus pupils with teacher Aisling Mahony and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.

Scoil Aoife in Citywest, Co Dublin, now has more than 60 pupils but expects to pass the 115 figure on its roll book in September at its €5.5m new home.

The Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board community national school has come a long way from September 2014, when just one girl was being taught by principal Stacey McAuley at Brookfield Community Centre.

Despite early questions about its viability, with a second pupil enrolling during its second week, the Department of Education was confident that demand registered for a third multi-denominational school in the area would materialise.

“At the start, the department kept saying the numbers were there to make the school viable, but I believed they were making a mistake,” said Ms McAuley.

“Other schools in the area said their numbers were dropping, but I think a lot of people were sending kids to schools in other areas because they didn’t have a choice around the question of ethos.”

By Christmas 2014, Scoil Aoife had grown to nine junior infants, and that group is now a 10-strong first class. Along with more than a dozen senior infants and two junior infant classes with 37 pupils, they sang for Education Minister Richard Bruton and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the school’s official opening yesterday.

“Things have come full circle for us,” said Ms McAuley. “A lot of families are moving into rental accommodation and people working in Citywest are also bringing their children.”

The 16-classroom school was occupied last August but the corridors will soon be much busier. With 40 junior infants expected in September and more set to join older classes, the number of class teachers will reach five. It also has a teacher to help the 70% of pupils whose home language is not English.

Scoil Aoife shares a learning support teacher with another school and will welcome six children with autism to a special unit in the autumn. As a community national school, it offers a multi-denominational ethos that caters for children of all faiths and none. However, parents have an option to have their children prepared for faith-specific rites of passage, such as Catholic sacraments, within school time.

Mr Bruton said yesterday that he will hold a forum on May 29 to hear further details from some of the 900-plus people and groups who responded to his proposals for new approaches to the role of religion in primary school admissions.

The minister has concerns about preference being given to children of the school’s religion who are not from the area getting preference over locals, but minority faiths are worried about the impact of any rules banning such practices.

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