October 2013 issue

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High school programmes in Ireland

Compared with the USA or the UK, the high school study abroad market in Ireland is not particularly large but it offers good value for money, as Bethan Norris reports.

While Asian students traditionally look towards Australia, when deciding where to study in a high school overseas, and South American students tend to be more attracted to North America, secondary schools in Ireland are starting to position themselves as a viable alternative due to their lower costs and clear pathways to higher education in Ireland and the UK.

Declan Millar at High Schools International, which places students in secondary schools throughout Ireland, says that the programme is particularly popular with European students, although its popularity is increasing with students from other world regions as well. “The most populous nationalities in Ireland at the moment are German and Spanish,” he says. “Other significant nationalities are Brazilian, Mexican, Russian, Czech and Italian.” Millar highlights the fact that the school qualification in Irish schools is “a recognised access route to UK universities” and adds, “The fact that private schools are a lot cheaper than UK private schools, and that the school system is more like most other systems – much more so than the UK AS/A- levels – makes it attractive for these students also.”

Niamh McHugh at IH Dublin, which has offered a high school programme in Ireland since the mid 1980s, says that the largest nationalities for them are Spanish, Russian, German and Italian students, although she adds, “We have had students from all over the world, including the USA.” McHugh says that their high school programme has been growing since its inception and believes that Ireland is an ideal destination for young students. “Ireland can be less intimidating for students,” she explains. “It’s smaller, easier to get around and less expensive. Even private education is subsidised by the state to a certain degree, although that is slowly changing. Public or state schools are open to all EU nationals and maintain very high academic standards.”

Many international students attending secondary schools overseas usually have plans to go on to university education in that country on completion of their programme. Millar says that often students start their programme with the intention of applying to university in the UK. “More than half of these then switch to further study in Ireland once they are embedded here,” he says. McHugh adds that the secondary leaving qualification offered in Ireland is of high value for those intending to go on to further studies in Ireland or elsewhere. “Many students do stay on to take the Leaving Certificate, which is the equivalent to IB or A-levels and then go on to university in Ireland or elsewhere. The higher level is widely recognised as an entry qualification for university and corresponds to Advanced Placement in the USA which allows you to skip Freshman year in many cases.”

However, both Millar and McHugh have noted an increase in interest in short-term programmes where students are more interested in having a secondary school experience abroad and perfecting their English rather than future study plans. Millar says, “The most popular [courses] are one-year co-validated programmes – especially in state schools. This is a new development especially with the increase in students from Spain, Italy and Germany. Many of the parents see the high school programme as better value than summer programmes with guaranteed results.”

McHugh says that the popularity of a high school year experience option is helped by the fact that the Irish school system includes “a transition year – 4th year – the content of which varies from school-to-school but is usually less academic”. She adds, “It is an excellent year for international students, providing valuable opportunities for personal development while gaining confidence in the English language, without the pressure of preparing for a state exam.”

Experiencing Ireland’s unique way of life is another attraction for overseas students and Seamus Hennesey from Cistercian College in Roscrea, Tipperaray, says that integrating with locals is a key part of their programme. “Uniquely we are run by the Cistercian order of monks,” he says. “We ensure that international students are fully integrated with local Irish students and when the school is closed students stay with host families who are referred by the school.”

Cistercian College has welcomed international students for more than two decades and Hennessy says that as a boarding school they offer a complete package of accommodation, pastoral care and academic provision. “We are a Catholic school but we also take students from other religions and those with no faith at all,” he says. “Our philosophy is different to other organisations as all the teachers and students live on site. This is our home and more than just a school.” bethan@hothousemedia.com

Accommodation options

While the majority of the secondary school programmes on offer in the UK are at boarding schools, students in Ireland have a bit more flexibility in their accommodation options due to different laws about host families in the country. Declan Millar from High Schools International says, “One benefit [regarding high school placements in Ireland] is that we can place students in host family programmes from the age of 13, while this is 16 in the UK.”

The option of host family accommodation means that there are a number of different options when it comes to accommodation for secondary school students in Ireland. “We offer everything from one-term to multi-year [programmes] and we cater for ages 13 to 18 years,” says Millar. “We offer both public and private schools with host family [and] seven-day boarding schools and five-day boarding schools.”

Niamh McHugh at IH Dubblin relates that they also offer seven- and five-day boarding school options, as well as day school programmes. “Day school students are accommodated with carefully selected host families who take the students in as one of their own. They are not viewed as ‘paying guests’. They have to muck in, do the washing up now and again and do things with the family as they would at home. Our host mothers are great. Very caring and welcoming. It is a home from home.”

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