LETTERKENNY primary schools Scoil Cholmcille and Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál have begun a consultation process with parents with the aim of both becoming co-educational from September 2018.
The first meeting with parents took place in the Scoil Cholmcille on Tuesday when parents were given a chance to have their say.
The proposals involve two classes of 25 children in junior infants in each school starting next September.
Scoil Cholmcille has been an all boys school since its establishment in 1896 while Scoil Mhuire has been an all girls school since its beginnings in 1854.
Principal of Scoil Cholmcille, Mr Pauric Cannon began the meeting by giving a brief history of single sex education in Letterkenny.
“121 years ago two presentation brothers travelled from Cork to Letterkenny and opened up the first school which was beside the present day pastoral centre,” said Mr Cannon.
“That building had just one big central room and two small rooms off it and in 1896 70 pupils enrolled.
“The reason why it was all boys and not girls was because there was this link that education was tied with developing vocations to the priesthood or vocations to religious orders.
“That’s how the single sex schools came about.”
Michael Tunney, a principal of an all girls school in Mullingar that went co educational along with two other schools in the district, spoke at the meeting about his own experience.
Mr Tunney said there is a lot of benefits from coeducation including handiness for parents who have both boys and girls as well as the social benefits of children mixing with the opposite gender from a young age.
While some concerns were raised, the feeling in the room was quite positive about the plans.
One of the concerns was whether the two schools would be in competition with each other.
However, Mr Tunney said in his experience with the three schools in Mullingar was that all schools benefited and grew in numbers.
“All of the schools did better out of it. It suited parents,” said Mr Tunney.
“The overall number in the three schools went up. It wasn’t that it went up in one and down in the other.
“It’s not being done to try and take students from any other school.
“There is a full dialogue taking place with the girls school.”
Mr Cannon said the school has been in talks with Scoil Mhuire since last May to ensure that they are both working in tandem.
“We want to ensure both schools are working together towards a common vision which is to ensure that not only do both schools flourish but that no child would feel stressed or have to deal with a dilemma,” said Mr Cannon.
“Both schools are at the exact same point in the process, in the consultation stage.”
Mr Cannon emphasised an important part of this process is for the patron to approve a common enrolment policy for both schools.
“A common enrolment policy would be in place so that parents are not faced with a dilemma where two schools are in competition with each other,” said Mr Cannon.
“We can only do that if the Board of Managements and the patron approve a common enrolment policy.”
The need for children to be able to interact with both genders as they go through life was highlighted by one parent in support of the plans.
Another parent asked if the views of the boys in the school have been taken into consideration.
Mr Cannon said the school is planning to address the issue with the children through their debating league where the boys will debate the positives and counter arguments.
One mother said: “I think this is a fantastic development. I have a boy and a girl and I would have loved to have them educated together.
Another parent simply asked why now?
“Parents have said to us ‘God I’d love to bring his sister to this school,” said Mr Cannon.
“A momentum has been gathering pace over the last three years and parents are saying for convenient sake alone so I don’t have to be dropping off one child to this school and my girl up at the next school or vice versa.
“The two schools are working at this together. The parents are driving it from the bottom up in a very informal way.
“It’s probably better for us to offer choice.
“The staff are really looking forward to the proposal and I think parents are looking forward to it themselves and saying it’s about time.”
However, one parent said an option to educate your child in a single sex school is now being taken away.
Another question raised was what changes will have to be made to Scoil Cholmcille and Mr Tunney explained practical things would need to be looked at such as the school uniform and school toilets.
The consultation phase for Scoil Cholmchille will continue until the end of October when a report will then be presented to the Board of Management.
Scoil Mhuire has written to all parents informing them that a meeting will be held on October 23 at 7.30pm in the school to discuss going coeducational.
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