A history of the school from 1986 to the present
In June 1986 a series of meetings was held in the East Clare area to discuss the establishment of a school and a set of principles underlying the initiative were drawn up . Advertisements were placed to employ a teacher and in November 1986 the lease of the old schoolhouse at Cooleenbridge, Scariff, Co. Clare was negotiated, with the intention that a site would be purchased and a building constructed in the future.
The school (originally called the East Clare New School Project) started under parental supervision (teaching, management etc.) in November 1986 when a teacher was engaged. The teacher was Aideen Mooney who had a UK recognized teacher qualification and who had some experience of Steiner Education. The parents continued to provide backup in non-academic areas. A joint teacher-parent management committee was elected and meetings were held regularly. Parents provided all labour (building maintenance, fencing, playground, etc.). The overall cost of running the school at this period was £213 per week which was covered by parental contributions according to means. It was agreed that no family would be refused access to the school on financial grounds alone. A series of fundraising events was organized. One of these fundraising initiatives was a cake stall in Ennis which developed into a co-operative whole food business that is still working profitably in Scariff as “The Grainey”. A number of such initiatives originating from the school are now operating as successful businesses.
In September 1987 Pearse O’ Shiel, who had recently completed his training as a Steiner teacher at Emerson College in Sussex, joined the school as a teacher and took the younger group of children. By the end of this year the total enrolment had grown to 27 children. The school had established a partnership with Holywood Rudolf Steiner School in Co. Down with the support of Co-Operation North and with Balingen Rudolf Steiner School in southern Germany.
A prefabricated building was bought and erected.
By September 1988 the number of children had grown to 40 and the financial arrangements were continually under review. The average family contribution was £12 per week with an estimated cost of £18 per week, leaving a deficit of 30% on income. The shortfall encouraged the parental body to be creative in fundraising and a craft project was established with the help of some friends in Switzerland. This craft project raised up to 20% of school income and continues to play an important social and economic role for the school.
Cooleenbridge Ltd. was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee on 18th. October 1988.
Further steady growth brought numbers to 56 children for the start of the 1989/90 year. The school was attracting a significant number of families to the East Clare area. It was possible to identify several distinct groups among those arriving for the school. Approximately one third were families who were moving from other parts of Ireland including several who had been living in Northern Ireland. Another third were of mixed Irish and other nationality from all parts of Europe and the remaining families were non-Irish. This last group included a large proportion of people moving from the UK and the US whose families came originally from Ireland and who emigrated in the last century. In May 1990 the parents and teachers organized a conference on Steiner/Waldorf education in Ennis which was well attended and brought the school to the notice of a wide public.
In the summer of 1990 the first class group graduated from the school, most of whom entered Scariff Community College the following September.
By the beginning of the 1990/91 school year, with 69 children the school had outgrown its rented premises and various alternatives were considered. It was finally decided to purchase land and build. An appeal was made to raise the necessary funds and this raised enough to purchase a four and a half acre site near the village of Tuamgraney. Outline planning permission was sought and gained and, following extensive consultation and debate within the school community, plans for a full school were agreed.
A third prefabricated building was purchased and erected.
The school year 1991/92 began with five separate class groups and five teachers. The kindergarten (age 4-6) had 17 children and the combined classes had 59 giving a total of 76. A mobile home was bought and it served as an extra classroom for remedial work. Voluntary parental teaching remained an important element in the overall provision with parents providing remedial teaching (Peggy Boyle B.Sc.), craftwork (Judith Evans), German (Christine Bartek), Irish and Drama (Anne Oí Reilly LRIAM).
With a further increase of 18% in pupil numbers to 90 for the start of the 1992/93 year the need to move to a new premises was growing urgent and planning permission was sought and granted on the basis of the plans for the buildings at the site in Raheen, Tuamgraney.
Most of the classes had been combined as the numbers were not sufficient for single class groups. The one exception was the Class 1 that started in Autumn 1991. This group was large enough as a single class and Jonathan Liddle, who had been trained as a Steiner teacher in Michael Hall School, Sussex, remained as their class teacher until the end of 1994.
Meg Mitchell B.Ed. took the combined Class1/2 in September 1993 and overall numbers remained steady with a 3% growth to 93 pupils. Through the summer of 1994 parents worked hard to erect the prefabricated buildings we had purchased from University of Limerick. These buildings were comprehensively remodelled to provide four classrooms, a remedial room, teachersí room, office and toilet blocks. The kindergarten building was brought to the new site from Cooleenbridge.
The opening of the “new” buildings was an important moment for the school community. This would be the permanent home of the school and all energies and effort could now be directed towards developing the site and preparing for the construction of the permanent buildings. In terms of pupil and family numbers the school entered a period of consolidation with no growth throughout the year. This consolidation was welcomed as the rapid growth of the school had resulted in a weakening of the original founding impulse. Cooleenbridge School was part of the founding of the Irish Steiner Schools Association and through the ISSA is represented on the European Council of Steiner Waldorf Schools. The schools has many other links to national and international educational institutions and organizations.
In March 1995 Cooleenbridge was admitted to the UNESCO Associated Schools Project.
In September 1995 the school year started with 68 children and a consequent reduction in the teaching staff to 4 full time teachers. A FAS community employment scheme, which had started in 1994 with the school as sponsor, grew to the point where, with 16 participants, it became an important part of the development of the physical surroundings of the school and of the social integration of the many new families associated with the initiative. During the Autumn considerable work was done in preparing a 3 year plan for the development of the school. One focus of this work was the planning for an upper (secondary) school. The development of festivals throughout the year has been an important aspect of the overall innovative character of the school and has been central in developing the community spirit of the parents and teachers. In December 1995 the Christmas Fair was a particular success with a large attendance and consequent financial and PR benefits to the school.
A visit from Trevor Mepham of the Steiner Schools Fellowship as teaching advisor was part of the ongoing programme of teacher development with three such visits each year. Funding for this in-service training is provided from the school budget.
Throughout the year new enrolments brought the pupil numbers back to previous levels and space once again became a problem in some of the classes.
Alan Williamson M.A. joined the teaching group in September 1996 and took the new Class 1. Total enrolment was 93 children . In June 1996 the school signed an agreement with Leargas to participate in a COMENIUS-1 project with partner schools in Scotland and The Netherlands. The project was entitled “Geography in our Environment” and the third and final year of the project began in September 1997. Although the main focus of the school is on primary education there was an increasing demand for early childhood and parenting services. A training course for early childhood educators was developed and the first group of students (22) completed the 2nd year in July 1999.
In July 1996 the school hosted the Interregional Youth Orchestra which rehearsed in the school for two weeks and performed in St. Flannan’s Cathedral in Killaloe.
In July 1997 an international language school – “The Clare English Language School” – run by the Class 1 teacher, Alan Williamson, held its inaugural three week English language course at Cooleenbridge School with participants from Sweden, Switzerland, France and Germany. This initiative will enable the school premises to be used productively in the summer when the children are on holidays.
Enrolment for September 1997 was 100 pupils, an increase of almost 50% on the 1995/96 figure.
In the course of this year the volume of enquiries increased and there were waiting lists for some of the classes. While there was still some room for growth in the Kindergarten and in Class 1 the lack of space was becoming a major problem for the school.
Work started to erect our first permanent building which now provides purpose-built space for 2 Kindergarten Groups.
In February 1995 Cooleenbridge Waldorf School was refused recognition by the Department of Education and Science. Despite a request from the school’s legal representatives no details were forthcoming from the Dept. as to the exact reasons for the refusal. The school community was advised at this point that there appeared to be no option open other than through the courts to secure recognition for the school and we reluctantly decided to follow that course of action.
For more details go to the High Court pages including text of the decisions.
The new kindergarten opened its doors during the Autumn.
The summer 2000 saw a major landscaping project which transformed the new Kindergarten grounds. Twenty eight people, with the ‘Steinschleuder’ spent two weeks working with teachers, parents and maintenance staff to lay the basis for the kindergarten gardens.
It was agreed to change the name of the school to Raheen Wood School. The name change took place during the St John Festival.
The Summer Holidays saw the start of a new project: an additional building was erected to house the School Craft project, and a new class room.
In June 2008 we had great joy in holding a series of community events to mark the 21st Birthday of our School. Past parents, pupils and teachers joined with those from the present, and we were delighted to welcome very many people from the local community who have supported the School along its journey. The craic, as they say, was mighty.
Raheen Wood School – or Cooleenbridge School as it was then known – opened its doors in November 1986, housed in the old schoolhouse at Cooleenbridge. It took in 21 children aged 4 to 11. The following year it was agreed that the school would develop as a Steiner Waldorf School, with parents and teachers managing the school jointly. 1989 saw a great influx of new pupils, which brought us up to 56 children.
Buying our own site in 1993, just outside the village of Tuamgraney, marked a new stage of development. 4 acres of woodland were transformed with the help of parents, friends and a local employment scheme into the imaginative school buildings and grounds that you see today, with play areas, sports field and garden. The school moved from the old schoolhouse at Cooleenbridge to the new site at Tuamgraney in September 1994. This was a real celebration because the school community had managed to do so much with such limited resources. Work has continued on the site since, notably the building of the Kindergarten, our first “permanent” building, completed in 2000. By the year 2000 the overall enrolment figures had reached 102.
A third phase of development was inaugurated in 2003 by a change of name: the name “Cooleenbridge School” was handed back to the owner of the old school house, where we had started off, and the present school given the name “Raheen Wood School”, in order to connect us more closely with the locality. Then in February 2008, momentous news: following a process lasting more than 15 years, the Department of Education & Science decided to grant recognised status to Raheen Wood Steiner National School, opening in September 2008: a primary school implementing the National Primary Curriculum through the Steiner model of education.
What lies ahead are uncharted waters. Our hope is that the State Recognition of Steiner Waldorf Education, as well as confirming the excellence of our ways of teaching and learning, and bringing in proper levels of financial resources to support our work, will herald in the long term a nationwide expansion of the availability of this educational choice.