St Paul’s CBS: a hidden gem near Smithfield

Just down the road from the TU Dublin Grangegorman campus on North Brunswick Street lies a small secondary school called St Paul’s CBS.

The saying ‘small but mighty’ is the best way to describe the school. With around 250 students roaming the corridors, it is a small  school, but it provides so much for the children and teens attending. 

Principal Dr Pat McCormack (right), and Vice Principle Valerie Roe (left). Photo taken by Zita Fox 

According to, the school is known as ‘The Brunner’ or ‘The School Around the Corner’, and was established in 1869, when Cardinal Cullen along with parish priest Canon Brock of Arran Quay invited the Christian Brothers to open a school in the area. Since then, the school has had multiple buildings added, the most recent addition being in 1998 when a new secondary building was added to improve conditions and provide much-needed facilities.  

The Liberty sat with the principal, Dr Patrick McCormack, who gave an insight into what the school is like. The first topic discussed was being a DEIS school, part of programme to minimise the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on students in schools.

“Schools would receive a sum of money for each student that they have enrolled in the school,” McCormack explains. “In DEIS schools, that capitation is slightly higher.”

The programme was established to try and increase the retention levels in schools, to increase the attendance rates and to try increase the progression rates into further education as well.

One of the other important features of DEIS, provided by the Department of Education, is the school meals programme. The school provides the children with a morning snack and then a hot dinner.

“We would have quite a number of students who would come to school, we knew historically, they might not be eating that well, whether that’s due to food poverty in the households, in the community, or poor dietary habits.”

The school knows that good nourishment leads to better engagement and attainment from the kids. They also offer any leftover food to the children. For example, if a child is absent their food for the day will be left by the door for when the other students are leaving school; anyone who wishes can take a portion for home. 

The school has a homeschool community liaison (HSCL) to help link the students’ homes with the school when necessary. “That’s a link teacher, a link effectively between the school and home.” The HSCL is a teacher in the school who does not actually teach classes. Instead, they link with parents and try to improve the communication with the school and encourage them to get their children into school.

“It helps parents not feel like they’re being judged, but rather that they’re being helped to bring their children in,” McCormack says.  

“The homeschool would be the school’s kind of main link with community groups,” he adds. Brunner has links in the area with a group called Bradóg, the school completion programme, and the Just Ask programme. These are after-school community groups or clubs for students, for homework, sports or activities. By linking with them, the school knows which students really need those supports and so has “that kind of wraparound support in the community for students”.

How have the school and its students changed over the years?

“I think it has changed because of, I think, the work that has taken place in schools and perhaps our increasing awareness of the potential that rests within all students, and that sometimes it’s very practical support that they need to help to realise that potential.”

McCormack cites, for example, the changes in the Junior Cycle, “which is effectively a monitoring programme of continuous assessment for students during their first three years.” There is also the transition program between primary and secondary, and the school also links well with community groups, whether that is charitable organisations or youth programs. There has also been an improvement in funding coming from the Department of Education and the Department of Social Protection. These have led to greater engagement from both students and parents. 

Old school building seen on campus. Photo taken by Zita Fox 

For some children, they may not have anyone in their family who has gone past the Junior Certificate, the idea of it is “completely unrealisable kind of territory”. As McCormack says, “it is all about breaking the cycles. if you can achieve that, it’s like pushing the boulder up the hill; once you kind of get it there, then a lot of the work starts to happen just organically from that.”  

On the other hand, sometimes secondary school is not for everyone. ‘Early’ school leaving, McCormack says, sometimes can be a good thing.

“I would ask the question, is secondary school the thing that every student needs or what we are offering through secondary schools?” He says you cannot just call those students ‘early school leavers’ as some of them may have made a completely rational decision to leave at age 16.

They might want to move into a different environment – it could be “an apprenticeship, a Youthreach programme, [or] into some vocational education programme.” The school does not mind early school leavers if they have a plan. It’s a motto around the building: “Everyone leaves the school with a plan.”  

As with other DEIS schools, St Paul’s receives most of its funding and help from the government, but it is common for such schools to still struggle financially so they have to make best with the funding they receive.

From walking around the area and inside the school campus itself you can really feel the sense of community shared among teachers and students alike.

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