Meath’s last remaining fee-paying secondary school, Gormanston College, is to end 60 years’ tradition by going into the free education scheme in September.
The move is being precipitated by cuts in State funding to private schools in recent budgets, combined by a fall-off in enrolments due to the economic recession.
Boarding fees at the college are between €8,000 and €10,000 a year depending on whether students are staying for five or seven days. Day pupil fees are €6,000 per annum.
The college, which has among its past pupils actor Colin Farrell, showjumper Con Power, Kerry GAA captain Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran, Health Minister, James Reilly and former Finance Minister, Charlie McCreevy, had a tradition of educating boarding and day pupils since 1954.
Thousands of Meath students have passed through its doors over the decades. However, enrolments have fallen sharply since 2008/2009 when it had 477 students. It has 205 this year.
A plan to boost its numbers to 720 under the free education scheme is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.
The Franciscan Order, acting as trustees, is believed to have had many options but there was a strong oveerarching wish to continue in education with a definite preferred option to provide that service within the free scheme.
The order had indicated to the board, and the Department of Education, that the free education option would be more in line with the Franciscan ethos in the spirit of Pope Francis, of inclusion.
The school authorities indicated it was well accepted that the current model of private free-paying schools, with add-on boarding and catering faciltiies carrying significant fixed costs, was only viable with significant numbers paying significant fees.
In common with many similar schools, Gormanston suffered a loss in numbers since the country’s financial collapse but still has to carry the fixed costs associated with a much larger operation.
In its attempts to stay viable, the college had undergone extensive financial restructuring, including two redundancy programmes and the oursourcing of boarding, catering and other support services.