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.