Moyross, Co. Limerick

In Brief

Corpus Christi Primary School is transforming a chronically disadvantaged community with empathy-based learning. Located in the council estate of Moyross, on the outskirts of Limerick City, the school offers modern resources, a low pupil-teacher ratio, and unique educational programs including leadership initiatives and a partnership with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, wherein students learn to work with animals. Over the last decade, Corpus Chrsti’s successful teaching has been reflected in enormous improvement in literacy and absenteeism rates.


Corpus Christi Primary School serves 175 students in Moyross, a council estate on the outskirts of Limerick City, and is committed to celebrating the achievements of its students, while actively addressing the challenges of life in a chronically deprived community.

The Biggest Idea

Empathy-based learning is central to Corpus Christi’s holistic education. The school partners with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust to implement Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Assisted Learning programmes. There are also robust woodworking, art therapy, and mindfulness programmes that can be therapeutic for students. Engaging parents in their children’s education is a core part of the school’s philosophy.

Life at Corpus Christi

Housed in a vibrant school building, Corpus Chrsti boasts modern facilities including interactive white-board technology in every classroom, ample computer and musical resources, a woodworking space, and a kitchen used for teaching. Class sizes are small to allow teachers to focus on the needs of each individual student. Parents are engaged in their children’s education as much as possible, for example through initiatives like Story Sacks and Family Reading Sessions, wherein parents get to coordinate with teachers to read with their young children at school, and Maths for Fun, which gives parents the opportunity to lead various mathematical activities in class. These programmes get parents involved with their children’s education and enhance communication between students and parents.

A partnership with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust gives students fulfilling experiences with horses and encourages them to learn the practical and emotional knowledge required to take care of animals. Corpus Christi also has a strong drama programme, as well as providing art therapy and woodworking classes. Principal Tiernan O’Neill has described the therepeutic impact of programmes like these through the example of one student whose emotional issues made him a candidate for institutionalization. After the student joined the woodworking programme’s boat-building project, however, he became much more engaged with school and could participate fully in the classroom.

Students are encouraged to work together in art programmes, sports, gardening projects, and many other aspects of school life. Moreover, several programmes (for example, buddy reading and writing, as well as the cuntoiri initiative) allow older students to act as mentors for younger ones. 13 years ago, 70% of students at Corpus Christi were reading below the national average and 50% of the children missed 20 or more school days per year; now 80% of students read at the national average, and only 10% miss 20 or more school days per year. The school’s inclusive techniques have engaged its community to a truly inspiring degree.

The Leadership

Principal Tiernan O’Neill has been at Corpus Christi for over a decade, as principal for last several years. Before that, he was a teacher and a Home School Liaison Coordinator, promoting partnership between parents and teachers. Therefore, he understands education as a holistic project involving the entire community. He has given much input into Literacy and Numeracy initiatives and staff development, and working together with the Father Tony O’Riordan, the chairperson of the school’s Board of Management, he is leading a staff of dedicated teachers and community advisors. O’Neill and O’Riordan plan their work strategically, guided by a vision for a more egalitarian society, where the students of Moyross feel that they belong.


Donabate-Portrane, Co.Dublin

In Brief

In keeping with the Educate Together philosophy, Donabate-Portrane is built around their motto, “learn together to live together,” with diversity and human rights central to the daily lives of the children in the school. From initiatives as varied as learning partnerships with organisations in Cambodia to a buddy system devised to help integrate children with autism, the school uses peer-to-peer learning to teach global citizenship and match it with local action.


Donabate-Portrane Educate Together National School in Donabate, Co. Dublin was established twelve years ago by a group of local parents interested in Educate Together’s approach to education, centred around human rights, equality and democracy. The school has since grown to almost 500 pupils, developing several unique methods to put these values into practice.

The Biggest Idea

Built around their motto “learn together to live together”, DPETNS extends this idea as far afield as Cambodia, where they have developed a teaching partnership with local youth organisations. Here, older students have the opportunity to teach younger students from their partner school, and peer-to-peer learning in other forms takes place throughout each day at DPETNS.

Life at DPETNS

Working under a simple vision statement - ‘no child an outsider’ - everyone in DPETNS takes responsibility for making sure this is the case. Teachers facilitate the pupils to learn from one another in as many ways as possible, with formal peer-to-peer programmes set up to encourage this culture to take off informally throughout the school day. Older pupils team up with their younger peers and children with an autism spectrum disorder to ensure that every child feels at home, and conflicts that do arise are resolved by 6th class Peer Mediators. 

Through the partnership with Cambodian youth organisations PEPY and Seedling of Hope, this spirit of learning together expands into a new culture and an awareness of global issues. Exchanging letters, artwork and videos of games and performances throughout the year, the pupils also celebrate Cambodian festivals and mark global awareness days with different projects. Fundraising throughout the year, children in DPETNS contribute to vocational trainings and other strategic interventions for students on the the other side of the world. With a strong personal connection, the learning experience is all the richer, as the children begin to understand problems in more depth, and can begin to see how lasting change can come about.

This burgeoning global citizenship is captured elegantly in the school’s outdoor classroom with a sign that reads:  “Children of our school, citizens of our world.” Designed and built by pupils, staff, parents and grandparents, the classroom is indicative of the school community seeing their role in a global context, but focusing their energy on solving problems locally as well as abroad. It is also just one example of the school working as a broader community. Just as parents came together to initiate the school twelve years, many parents remain heavily involved in developing new programmes alongside teachers.

The Leadership

Maeve Corish has been the principal at Donabate-Portrane ETNS since it opened in 2002. With over 30 years of teaching experience in north county Dublin, Maeve arrived with a passion for restorative justice and conflict resolution, which has underpinned the school’s emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and human rights. Most significantly, she has bred a culture of innovation among the staff at DPETNS, with several innovative programmes emerging and parental involvement rotating along with them. From a major, positive mental health programme involving everyone in the school, to the sensory garden and murals celebrating diversity, ideas are tested from every persona and every corner of the school.



Ahascragh, Co. Galway

In Brief

Eglish National School’s small staff provides a broad and active education tailored to the needs of its students. Committed to enabling each student to achieve their fullest potential at their own rate, Eglish offers many opportunities for children to be proactive in their learning, ranging from outdoor education and a public speaking programme to events that encourage entrepreneurial skills and foreign exchange through Erasmus: a gamut of activities that embody core values of creativity and inclusivity to encourage students to develop their sense of self and place in a diverse world.


Established over a century ago in 1899, Eglish National School serves 45 students in rural County Galway, 70% of whom are from the Travelling community and a third of whom have a special education need. Three class teachers are supported by the rest of the school’s small staff to provide a curriculum that emphasises creativity and inclusivity.

The Biggest Idea

Empowering students is a strong theme at Eglish National School, and helping them develop their communication skills is a key part of this. The “LET’s Stand” programme gives children public speaking practice, and students are generally encouraged to have open conversations, while teachers build a learning environment where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.

Life at Eglish

Cultivating community begins at the smallest scale at Eglish National School: students raise chicks, rescue ducklings, maintain an ant farm and an algae/shrimp ecosystem. They recently raised butterflies and released them into the school’s sensory garden, where flowers are also planted, and in a nearby polytunnel, they grow vegetables, which are mostly tended to by children with special education needs.

These opportunities, in addition to fostering empathy and providing a therapeutic outlet for children, reflect the type of personal responsibility and active involvement in the community that is central to Eglish. 70% of students are from the Travelling community, and inclusion and acceptance of diversity are important tenets of the community. To actively engage in this community, students make and sell crafts at the “Bring and Buy” sale, they join committees to act as leaders in important school planning and senior students even get to lead school assemblies. Recently, students wrote, produced and acted in an award-winning play, and the work of the Energy Committee earned the school a “Green Flag.” These are just a few examples take active roles in the Eglish community.

One especially important way that Eglish empowers its students is by focusing on communication skills. While technology is an important part of the curriculum (students even learn to code), there is also an awareness that modern technology can encourage passivity at the expense of communication. Classrooms have “conversation stations” and public speaking is developed through the “LET’s Stand” (Listen, Evaluate, Talk, Stand) programme, which gives each student the opportunity to speak in front of an audience at least 10 times a year on topics that interest them.

Finally, as Eglish empowers students to discover their voices, it also brings them in contact with broader world, bringing in the perspectives of foreign educators and giving children opportunities to learn abroad through the Erasmus programme. In all these ways, Eglish is preparing students to use their unique perspectives to be active members of the global community.

The Leadership

Siobhan Keenan Fitzgerald has been an innovative principal, ensuring that the over 100-year-old school prepares students for the modern world. She believes in identifying students’ unique strengths and interests as a foundation for their education, and she wants Eglish’s children to become excellent communicators and leaders. She has developed the “LET’s Stand” programme due to her belief in the importance of oral communication to self-development and broader success in the world, and it has taken hold in the school, encouraging students to let their voices be heard and become forces of change in the world.


The Liberties, Dublin 8

In Brief

Francis Street CBS embraces the challenging realities of inner-city Dublin with an innovative focus on social and emotional intelligence, and an approach to discipline that is therapeutic rather than authoritative. From programmes as diverse as yoga and restorative justice, the boys in Francis Street learn to regulate their emotions and express themselves with confidence, all the while improving their literacy and numeracy skills.


Based in Dublin’s inner city, Francis Street CBS is a boys primary school with 145 pupils aged between 7 and 12 years. Recognised by the Department of Education as a DEIS Band 1 school, Francis Street is considered to be tackling the highest level of social and economic disadvantage impeding education. 

The Biggest Idea

Where schools in similar environments might be defined by rules and punishment, Francis Street takes the opposite approach, focusing on developing the social and emotional intelligence that confronts behavioural problems at their root.  With a school culture founded on empathy, the boys in Francis Street grow to control their emotions and express themselves with confidence as they move into their teenage years.

Life at Francis Street

For a school committed to breaking cycles of disadvantage, one might be surprised to learn that every child in Francis Street practices yoga. Not just a middle-class pastime, it is one of many methods used in Francis Street to help the boys regulate their emotions, concentrate in class and be better equipped to empathise with others. Through the ‘Friends For Life’ positive mental health programme, the boys develop coping plans for anxiety, while working with Rainbows Ireland, they learn to manage the grief that many sadly endure. This environment focused on each individual’s emotional well-being is the foundation that allows the boys to thrive as they move through the school.   

Self-expression is another critical phase for the pupils in Francis Street. Determined to stamp out bullying and reverse a culture where calling attention would make matters worse, the school adopted the policy of a ‘Telling School’. By positively re-enforcing the expression of different playground issues, but also the children’s ideas more broadly, the nature of telling on another pupil is taking on a new meaning. This is further supported by the school’s approach to discipline, where children resolve issues themselves through restorative justice programmes.

Beyond being at the forefront of social and emotional education, Francis Street is also a hive of activity, always giving students the opportunity to take ownership of different projects. The school’s student council is one of the oldest in Ireland, while they have teamed up with the new state agency Solas to support their budding entrepreneurs to take part in Dragon’s Den competitions. While some schools are moving away from such initiatives to focus more directly on curriculum, Francis Street show no signs of changing course. Indeed, the combination of their efforts on the fringes of the curriculum has helped increase literacy and numeracy dramatically, while simultaneously bringing attendance levels to their highest yet. Above all, Francis Street is a place that these young boys enjoy coming to every day.

The Leadership

Fiona Collins is the Principal at Francis Street CBS and an Incredible Years teacher trainer - a series of programmes designed to advance social and emotional intelligence. A natural innovator with an unwavering belief in the potential of all her pupils, Fiona previously organised a local group of organisations to campaign (successfully) against the closure of schools in Dublin’s inner city. Leadership runs throughout the entire staff, who have collectively implemented the multiple programmes and new ideas in the school.  Remarkably committed and talented, this group of teachers have instigated unique projects in fitness, nature and even random acts of kindness.


Galway City, Co. Galway

In Brief

Galway Educate Together National School (GETNS) aims to meet a growing need in Irish society for schools that recognize the developing diversity of Irish life and the modern need for democratic management in schools. The primary school emphasises inclusive and holistic education through programmes including an Autism Unit, a Mental Well-Being initiative and the Ashoka Fellow organisation Playworks. GETNS is an influential school that is comfortable being showcased and ready to co-create and share methodologies.


In 1994, a group of parents established Galway Educate Together National School (GETNS) to educate their children with the core principles of the multidenominational Educate Together network. The primary school, which is governed democratically, now serves 300 students in its modern facility on the edge of Galway City with innovative, child-centric education techniques.

The Biggest Idea

The school has a strong focus on active and experiential learning through initiatives that range from the filmmaking programme to Playworks, a programme developed in the United States and piloted in Ireland for the first time at GETNS. This is an example of the school’s openness to try new ideas and share them with other schools, through its connections with nearby schools and also the Educate Together network across the country.

Life at GETNS

In the GETNS aquarium, residents like Barry the butterfish and Patricia the prawn are not simply a spectacle. In the last couple of years, the 6th class has helped create lesson plans for other classes, with the aquarium at the center. These range from explorations of the types of animals in the aquarium for younger children to lessons about ocean biodiversity for older students. The use of the aquarium as a focal point that brings learning to life is indicative of the active learning that GETNS encourages in its students, and the involvement of older students in building curriculums is just one of the many leadership opportunities available at the school, which is itself a leader in innovative educational initiatives.

Students also get to lead important work through the Student Council and the Green School Committee. On the playground, students can promote respect and fun by becoming “junior coaches” through the Playworks programme, an initiative by an American Ashoka fellow that promotes healthy and happy play, which GETNS was the first school in Ireland to implement. Just as the junior coaches set an example for other students by leading games, GETNS has been very open pioneering Playworks in Ireland and sharing its experience with other schools. The school has strong links with the broader community, including the local Catholic school as well as Educate Together schools across the country. Parents, too, are well-integrated into the school community; they receive a thorough weekly newsletter, and there is an active Parent Association.

Naturally, the community fostered within students is also strong, and inclusiveness is a core principle. GETNS has an Autism Unit and a Mental Well-Being initiative to ensure the comfort and success of all its students. Students get to cultivate community through their active learning, which includes working in the school’s organic garden and engaging in other outdoor programmes, as well as participating in collaborative, creative projects such as writing and producing films. New ways for students to learn and grow together are always arising at this innovative school.

The Leadership

Principal John Farrell actively encourages children and staff to innovate and leads implementation of new ideas. He has a very supportive team of staff to help promote this ethos throughout the school. The staff is training up to provide future ‘Life Skills for Young People,’ and Principal Farrell and his team are very articulate on the importance of children developing an adaptive skillset.



Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

In Brief

Little Angels School uses creative and comprehensively conscientious teaching techniques to serve students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities and students with autism. By using technology to creatively facilitate teaching, building an environment that encourages pupils to become as independent as possible and making children feel comfortable with therapy and a number of engaging activities, Little Angels School helps every student become “the best that they can be.”


Little Angels School’s large staff of teachers and special needs assistants provide a rich education to 98 students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities and autism in County Donegal. Students range in age from 3 to 18, and Little Angels addresses their special needs with compassionate teaching, innovative technological solutions, and programmes carefully designed for their unique circumstances.

The Biggest Idea

The school is built around what children can do, rather than what they cannot. For example, some of the pupils, although severely autistic, show great affinity for I.T. and are encouraged to develop these skills. The school is set up for students to navigate as independently as possible, and an enormous range of activities is available to them.

Life at Little Angels

Every morning, children at Little Angels School make their own way to their classrooms, remove their own coats and bags and take out their lunchboxes, as the school’s staff stand around the schoolyard as helpful guides. These tasks are major for the pupils, and it can take months and years of work to achieve them independently. This is just one of many of ways that students at Little Angels are encouraged to take agency in their education and within the school community.

In addition to numerous artistic and athletic activities (there is a robust drama programme and students have the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics), students also get to involve themselves with many aspects of the school’s operation. For example, they can help with shopping for the school, produce assemblies, play a role in the “green schools” initiative or work in the garden. Senior students can get work experience with the “Bubble Car Wash” and cook for the entire school on special occasions (Irish Stew for St. Patrick’s Day, Lamb Stew at Easter, etc.).

To facilitate learning, Little Angels integrates a variety of technologies into the daily flow of the classroom. One school motto is “Technology makes things easier for us but for people with special needs it can make things possible,” and this is brought to life through the use of iPads, eye-gaze devices and Talking Tin or BIGmack communication devices, together with techniques like Picture Exchange Communcation System and Lámh signing, that help children communicate, as over 90% of students are non-verbal. Switch-accessible activities, motion-sensing Kinect technology, and other creative technological tools allow students to become active learners.

More generally, every aspect of the school is designed to make students feel comfortable, no matter what their individual needs may be; another school motto is “If a child cannot learn the way we teach maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This means that everything from occupational therapy equipment to wheelchair swings to a water therapy area are available to students. These are just a few of the steps Little Angels takes to ensure that each child is able to be “the best that they can be.”

The Leadership

Principal Angela Keane leads a large staff of around 20 teachers and close to 40 special needs assistants, as well as many other staff members. She has shown admirable commitment to the development of the school, which started out as a three bedroomed house in 1980, but now has been expanded to include much more state of the art facilities. Keane has been committed to providing facilities like hoists, shower areas, kitchens and relaxation spaces in each room to meet and normalise he needs of all students.


Darndale, Dublin 17

In Brief

Situated on the outskirts of Dublin in an area of high social and economic disadvantage, Our Lady Immaculate Junior National School has built strong bonds with the local community in order to provide a quality education and has raised literacy and numeracy levels, as well as attendance rates, over the last several years. With initiatives like “The Play Project,” a meditation programme and many opportunities for creativity, Our Lady Immaculate emphasises the wellbeing of its students, and through innovative partnerships with several colleges of education, it is developing new ways to help disadvantaged students learn as effectively as possible.


Opened in 1974 on the outskirts of Dublin, Our Lady Immaculate Junior School serves 240 students up to the age of age 8. According to the Department of Education and Skills, the school is tackling the highest level of social and economic disadvantage impeding education. Nevertheless, the school’s innovative teaching has raised literacy and numeracy levels over the past few years, and attendance rates have increased.

The Biggest Idea

The school has worked often with external partners that range from various colleges of Education to the Department of Education and Skills’s School Completion Programme to implement innovative educational programmes that rethink the role of play and learning, increase literacy and boost attendance rates. At the same time, it has developed numerous outreach programmes that maintain a positive relationship with the local community.

Life at Our Lady Immaculate

Working with St Catherine’s College Rathmines and St Patrick’s College of Education, Our Lady Immaculate developed “The Play Project” to integrate teaching with play. Teachers throughout the school were trained in teaching through play techniques, making it a sustainable part of the school’s culture. More recently, the school has worked with the Marino Institute of Education to pilot a project that encourages parents to read with their children. This is just one example of Our Lady Immaculate’s excellent track record of engaging parents, as well as the local community in general.

The school runs literacy programmes and peer groups for adults, as well as a community lending library. It also makes its meditation space available to the community at times. The meditation programme began several years ago, and it provides a weekly opportunity for relaxation and concentration for students. Besides this, there are many other programmes that promote children’s wellbeing while also providing educational opportunities. These range from sports to a robust arts programme, which includes an Arts Week that brings in members of the community to share different artistic disciplines like woodcarving and Irish dancing.

Our Lady Immaculate is a member of the School Completion Programme of the Department of Education and Skills, which aims to reduce the number of young people who leave school early. The importance of school attendance is emphasised—with prizes for students with excellent attendance—and in recent years, attendance rates have increased. At the same time, literacy and numeracy levels have improved as well, and the school continues to enthusiastically bring new innovations to the community and prepare students for the future.

The Leadership

Under the leadership of principal Breda Murray, the school staff has built a track record of innovative programmes. Murray leads a talented team of teachers and staff who are highly capable and work well in teams; they have led the way nationally in employing team-teaching. Murray has a history of finding funding from organisations and individuals to fund exciting projects at the school and also benefit the local community. For example, a few years ago Aer Lingus refurbished the school yard and redecorated the school.


Derrynoose, Co. Armagh

In Brief

Located in the small village of Derrynoose, Co. Armagh, Our Lady’s & St. Mochua’s is a microcosm of the huge potential in towns and villages throughout Ireland. Through peer-to-peer learning, entrepreneurship, engineering projects with local businesses and e-learning initiatives with other schools south of the border, Our Lady’s & St. Mochua’s instills leadership skills in their pupils that will be essential for rural areas to thrive in the future.


Situated on the border of Armagh and Cavan, Our Lady's & St.Mochua's (OLSM) is the local primary school for 176 children from the small surrounding villages of Derrynoose and Carna. A rural school under the patronage of the Catholic Church, OLSM gives a unique insight into Ireland's history and future.

The Biggest Idea

Despite the many challenges faced by rural communities across the island of Ireland, OLSM looks positively towards the future, placing a particular focus on technology, entrepreneurship and above all, leadership. Guided by their school motto: 'Reaching for the future... A voice today,' the pupils at OLSM are brought up to take charge of their future now, not merely develop the potential for their adult life.

Life at OLSM

Core to the school's philosophy is ensuring that no student leaves without experiencing a leadership role. This can be in sports, student councils, eco-committees or the House Cup, where teams are formed throughout the whole school and older students take on the role of teacher to younger pupils. Older students also take this leadership outside of the school, engaging with the local business community in hands-on engineering projects that develop real-life improvements to the school grounds. In the past, these and similar projects have been developed with Queen’s University and presented at Stormont. Enterprise is a recurring theme throughout life at OLSM. The student-organised Swap Shop runs all year round, culminating in Young Enterprise Week, an exhibition of the pupils’ own ideas and projects.

Beneath this, and amid all other curriculum requirements, OLSM places a great emphasis on developing the emotional and cultural intelligence of their students. Through Roots of Empathy, the children follow the development of a new born child on visits throughout the year, following a simultaneous lesson plan to help them understand their own emotions and those of their classmates.

Through Dissolving Boundaries, the pupils bring this empathy to life, engaging digitally with students in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, on the other side of the border. History and heritage is deeply ingrained in the students, from film-making projects on years gone by to the locally-run Old Time Games programme, bringing imagination and resourcefulness back into playtime. In this small cluster of communities, the children and teachers at OLSM are providing a pathway to the future of rural Ireland. Digitally connected, enterprising and confident, the school is a microcosm of the huge potential in Irish towns and villages.

The School Leadership

Principal Gary Farrell is driven by a simple but powerful vision: that no child should ever pass by OLSM because a better learning environment lies beyond it. From special needs assistance to sports, creative outlets or the quality of teaching, OLSM is designed for every student to thrive. Local to the area his entire life, Mr. Farrell embodies the school’s future-focused ethos, with a background in up-skilling other Northern Irish teachers in IT. The emphasis on rural connectivity and opportunity inspires the school’s ambitious culture, which comes to life through the leadership of not just the principal and teachers, but most of all from the pupils themselves.



Buncrana, Co. Donegal

In Brief

Scoil Íosagáin creates connections between mainstream and special needs students to encourage empathy and build a strong sense of community within the school. The school emphasizes both emotional literacy and academic achievement, and it provides many opportunities for children to take leadership in the community, from making important decisions as part of the student council to acting as Classroom Assistants. This is all captured in the saying, “We’re in it together: Ag Sugradh le Cheile, ag Obair le Cheile agus ag Fas le Cheile” (play together, work together and grow together).


A primary school of over 700 students in County Donegal, Scoil Íoságin has both mainstream classes and special classes for students with autism and students with learning disabilities. Students from all the classes are integrated in as much of the school experience possible, including a wide variety of extracurricular activities.

The Biggest Idea

Building and maintaining an inclusive community is an important piece of Scoil Íoságin’s culture. This centers on the principle that all children, regardless of physical or intellectual ability should be able to learn and develop together. Programmes ranging from the student council to the Buddy system between pupils in mainstream and special classes all contribute to this.

Life at Little Angels

One recent project of Scoil Íoságin’s student council was to fundraise for ‘The Free Wee library,’ a program that would establish small libraries around the school were students could participate in book exchanges. In this project we see some of the elements that are essential to the school as a whole: student leadership, intellectual opportunity and the cultivation of a tight community among students.

This community is developed in the after-school art club, which promotes self-expression through painting and gives students from the mainstream and special needs classes an opportunity to work on group pieces together, and in the drama group, “Páistí le chéile,” which includes pupils of all abilities, including those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Students also take initiative in fostering this community when they participate in the Buddy system, in which students from mainstream classes pair with students in the special classes, or when they become Classroom Assistants, who support pupils in the junior classes and special classes.

Students’ learning and development are also supported by the Rainbows peer-support programme, which assists children experiencing a significant loss in their lives such as death, separation or divorce within their family, as well as the Neuro-Developmental Exercise Programme, which helps students with various problems which affect the way they learn. A Roots of Empathy programme has also been in place for several years and music therapy is available for children. These are just a few of the ways that Scoil Íoságin’s makes an effort to include every student.

More broadly, the school’s “reverse integration” programme encourages empathy by having children in mainstream classes join their peers in special classes for lessons or other activities. In the classroom, as well as on the sports team, in the school garden and in many other everyday moments, the students of Scoil Íoságin are creating a community where they can grow.

The Leadership

Principal Sinead McLaughlin has been the longtime leader of Scoil Íoságin’s large staff. Her relationship with the pupils is a fundamental motivation for her, and she is familiar with the families in the community. She has pushed for inclusion and integration of all students, and she has a strong sense of pride for the school, its sense of community and its place in the surrounding community.


Douglas, Co. Cork

In Brief

With both an attached facility for deaf children and a large number of hearing impaired children in the school’s mainstream, every child and teacher in St. Columba’s learns sign language. Where dictation is impossible, communication extends beyond the verbal and comes to life. As a result, the school is naturally and uniquely interactive and experiential, with many outdoor learning spaces designed to let the pupils speak and learn through their actions.


St Columba’s Girls National School with Facility for Deaf Children is located on almost 10 acres of land in Douglas, Cork. There are 500 girls in St Columba’s with 37 deaf children in the facility attached to the school and a large number of deaf children in the school’s mainstream.

The Biggest Idea

With a long history catering for deaf and hearing impaired children, every child and teacher in St.Columba’s learns sign language. Where absorbing knowledge from dictation alone is impossible, communication extends beyond the verbal and into the physical. As a result, the school is naturally and uniquely interactive, where the girls can’t help but be involved and in charge of their learning.

Life at St. Columba’s

In St. Columba’s, sign language is not indicative of a disability, and is considered an equal language to English. Unsurprisingly, this culture of appreciating differences extends beyond those with hearing impairments. Children with other disabilities are integrated seamlessly, as are those from all 39 nationalities represented in the school. The children are also closely connected with the elderly community, engaging in several creative activities together. Most strikingly, this holistic approach creates a unique atmosphere of co-operation and calmness - turning what some could consider a major communication challenge into a perfect learning environment.

This environment is as likely to be seen outdoors as inside. With a specially constructed outdoor classroom, a bog garden, vegetable beds, hens and walking trails, St. Columba’s use their unusual amount of space to great effect. Given the responsibility of planting and maintaining their learning landscape, the children do more than speak with their hands. Exploration and adventure go hand in hand with the outdoor learning experience, with a huge outdoor climbing frame recently constructed to help children work together and build courage and confidence.

The pupils are no less creative indoors, with a particularly strong focus on art and music, all with the added intention of improving performance in the traditional core skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In particular, the staff recently adopted and adapted a cognitive acceleration programme, using maths to increase creative problem-solving. Emanating from their unique form of communication, the culture of the school spirals out into real-life problem-solving that comes back to benefit standardised test scores. Indeed, these score have increased since sign language became their native tongue. Changing young girls from attentive listeners to proactive leaders of their own education has become the trademark of St. Columba’s.

The Leadership

After 35 years of teaching, Michelle Cashman has recently retired as principal, but her legacy of innovation is carried throughout the school. A Cambridge graduate with a passion for learning through music, Michelle was also inspired by experiences in Norwegian schools to bring outdoor education to St. Columba’s.


Killarney, Co. Kerry

In Brief

St. Oliver’s Primary School is one of Ireland’s largest and most diverse primary schools. A hub of the community, local therapists work from prefabs on site and teachers from nearby secondary schools come in to prepare children for the next stage of their education. Open until late every day of the week, the school is used by community groups of all kinds to demonstrate their philosophy of lifelong learning and to re-enforce the central role of a national school in society.


St Oliver’s is a Catholic school in Killarney, Co Kerry. The school has 768 pupils, with almost 50 more children in the community-based pre-school that operates on the same grounds. With 43 nationalities and over 60 pupils from the Traveller community, it is one of Ireland’s most diverse primary schools, as well as one of the largest.

The Biggest Idea

True to its size and shape, St. Oliver’s is a hub of the larger Killarney community. At different times throughout the year, the school is also home to local health professionals, teachers from nearby secondary schools and community groups of all kinds, as the school stays open until late every day of the week. As a result, the children’s education is uniquely centred around the living reality of the local town.

Life at St. Oliver’s

In the very centre of St. Oliver’s is a large fish tank, with 43 differently coloured fish, each representing one of the many nationalities that make up the school’s population. Creatively decorated by the students, the centrepiece serves to re-enforce the school’s culture of celebrating diversity and drawing inspiration from nature. Within sight of the tank is the ‘Golden Letterbox’, a similarly pristine piece of the school’s furniture with a distinct purpose. Each day, the letterbox accepts praise and support from anyone in the school, with the recipients’ parents notified with a simple but powerful phone call at the end of each week. 

Co-operation and collaboration is woven into the fabric of the school. In recent years, the classrooms were reshuffled to place 6th class children beside Junior Infants, giving rise to natural mentorship and care. Older pupils are also given more formal leadership roles to support and inspire the younger children in the school. In a Catholic school that is closely connected to the church, this community spirit defines the school far more than any one doctrine. While time is made each day for spiritual reflection, it is no surprise to see children turning towards Mecca to say their prayers. St. Oliver’s is a school where religion is about the values that unite people, rather than the politics that can cause separation. 

St. Oliver’s is pragmatic. Its role in connecting all members of the broader Killarney community can be seen particularly clearly in the school’s small farm, which is managed mostly by children from the Traveller community. Recognising that many of these pupils would start preparing for their future at weekday markets rather than school, the skills learned at the market came inside the school grounds. In countless different ways, St. Oliver’s looks beyond the school and into the community to connect the children with their passions, and with issues bigger than books.

The Leadership

A charismatic principal, Rory D’ Arcy is as actively involved in the local community as in the running of the school. Between roles with “Campus Killarney” and Muckross House, his engagement with the broader education sector, the major local tourism industry and Killarney’s heritage all influence the culture of St. Oliver’s. Having learned at length from best practice across Ireland and around the world, including models from Sweden, Italy and Australia, the school is unique in its entrepreneurial approach. As well as the school’s many successes, they take almost equal pride in the many things that have failed to catch on - the same real-world mentality that places them at the heart of their community.


Cherry Orchard, Dublin 8

In Brief

St. Ultan’s Primary School is innovatively combining care with education to provide for both the intellectual and emotional needs of its students. Located in an area of high social and economic disadvantage, the school understands that care and education must be integrated to tackle the unique difficulties that many children face. It achieves this through its unique Intervention Care Education (ICE) programme and by emphasizing hands-on and active learning with its students in ways that foster their well-being, creativity and leadership skills. Playing in the orchestra, practicing meditation together, working in the garden, participating in the student council—these are just a few of the many ways children at St. Ultan’s. get to engage with the community and their own self-development.


St. Ultan’s provides a hands-on education to 420 students in Ballyfermot, a suburb of Dublin with high social and economic disadvantage. The school has developed a number of active learning programmes to engage students and tackle the unique issues they face, and it has even attracted international funding to do innovative work.

The Biggest Idea

The school integrates care and education; its philosophy considers it cruicial to help students develop not only learning skills, but also social and emotional ones. St. Ultan’s provides both Early Education and after school programmes, and its mission is also reflected in the school curriculum. Early identification and intervention for problems is encouraged, and students and teachers are taught to handle issues through a Restorative Practice framework.

Life at St. Ultan’s

At St. Ultan’s, you’ll find students playing and composing music in the orchestra. You’ll find children taking full responsibility of planting and maintaining the school’s vegetable beds. You’ll find them taking ownership of the school’s operations through the student council. You’ll find them practicing meditation, alongside their teachers. Classroom teachers work with in-class support teachers to build his wide array of hands-on learning opportunities for students, because the school has attempted to shift some focus away from textbooks in the education it provides.

Serving an area of high social and economic disadvantage, the school has a philosophy of integrating care and education. This ties in with the active learning techniques that compel students to become engaged and invested in their education. It also manifests itself in the Intervention Care Education Initiative, which is core to the school. In the Early Education Care Unit, students build social skills through the “Chatter Matters” and ‘Talk Boost” programmes. After school programmes are also available, as well as a robust meditation programme, that is also made available to parents. Children with special needs are integrated into the community, and in recent years the school’s Austistic Unit has been extended, for example with a sensory room and a sensory garden. Finally, Restorative Practice is a central part of the school’s function; teachers and students learn to resolve conflicts and problems with respect, listening, and fariness.

In addition to developing students’ abilities, the school aims to integrate them with the broader community. Parents and the local community are brought into the school, for example through the Parents’ Association. The school also attempts to make international connections; international symphony orchestras have visited the school and played alongside the students, and St. Ultan’s has links to other European schools through the Erasmus Plus and Comenius programmes. In these ways, the school is helping students from a disadvantaged community realize that they can all play an important role in the world. 

The Leadership

Principal Ena Morley, who has led the school for ten years with a deep belief in the integration of education and care, developed the Intervention Care Education programme to serve St. Ultan’s students. She has also been key in the formation of a highly innovative music programme. Morley aims to make the school a safe and happy place, and she leads a team of teachers and special needs assistants who lead their students through many hands-on activities compassionately and are trained to handle problems through Restorative Practice.