Posted by Paul Corcoran, Connacht Tribune in Features.

Coláiste Bhaile Chláir throws out the textbooks to embrace whole new era


Claregalway’s Corporate Park doesn’t look like the most obvious base for one of the country’s newest and most progressive secondary schools. A relic of the Celtic Tiger, you drive past the rows of large units, many of which are vacant—and at the rear of all that, you find Coláiste Bhaile Chláir at its base since opening in 2013.

Now, as it prepares for its first Junior Certificate class, the school boasts 570 pupils—and projections are that 1,000 will be attending by the time this group sits their Leaving. By then of course, progressive Principal Alan Mongey hopes they may have moved to a more permanent home.

“We have planning permission for the new school and the new roadway, we hope to start in the next couple of weeks,” he says. The new roadway will link the school closer to Claregalway village and effectively take them out of their grey surroundings of the Corporate Park. But even as it stands, the school strives to be a part of the community even though it is up here in the Corporate Park.

Alan Mongey is a young principal, and while his suit, tie and professional demeanour make him seem older, his ideas and innovation are brand new. The administrative staff and any of the teachers visible upon entrance are also young—in every sense, this is a youthful school.

‘The teachers are highly motivated, they want to achieve they want to do well; we’re constantly trying to improve,” he says.

“This was the opportunity to establish a new school—it doesn’t come around too often. You get to pick your own staff build a culture and an ethos within the school.” This enthusiasm is pervasive; this is a bright, new and, most of all, happy place of learning. “I’m most proud of getting to where we are. The students are happy. If you’re a happy student, you’re a confident learner,” he says.

The shared vision is to create an innovative school committed to leadership and excellence—and that translates to a level of innovation that is second to none. “We weren’t going to have textbooks and e-books, we wanted the teachers to create the content best suited to the needs and abilities of the students sitting in front of them,” he says—as if having no textbooks was the most ordinary thing in the world.

“Teachers share what they’ve created in conjunction with their class groups, our teachers are able to edit and amend, what they’ve created as they go along,” Alan continues. But it’s when it comes to maths that Coláiste Bhaile Chláir is at its innovative best.

“They’re able to record their lessons as they’re going along if they want to so if they’re giving an explanation to the class they’re writing it on their surface device, as they’re writing they can create the voice over for it,” he explains. “It can be inserted into the textbook created for the students. Teachers build up a bank of those so next year they have it there.” This particularly works for weaker students, or those who just can’t stand learning mathematics as this stage of their life.

Everything from teaching methods, down to the students’ interactions with teachers feel like a third level institution—and that also manifests itself in balancing the approach to learning and state exams. “We are preparing them for their examinations but also for the world of work and third level,” says Alan.

Students are getting what could be one of the most rounded educations on the island. They are trained in the soft skills—communication, collaboration and teamwork. “They are working in groups, presenting and using technology they will be using at third level,” the Principal explains.

Already the school’s first, second and third years are taking on Transition Year students at debate competitions and winning. “It’s setting high expectations of the students so they’ll have high expectations of themselves,” says Alan. “They can decide to progress to third level but also decide to work as they’ll be well prepared for any job interview.”

As the students work outside, Alan Mongey looks to the future and his vision for Colaiste Bhaile Chlair. “I hope the students that progress through will continue to come back as adults. We’ll continue to try and improve everything we do; we won’t just take a deep breath and sit back.”