A Dublin language school using the name Trinity English School has been accused of failing to pay staff and conning students who say they had to cut their courses short after being misled by false advertising, Trinity News can reveal. The school, which Trinity College Dublin is now taking legal action against for its use of the trademark “Trinity”, changed its name from “Learn English in Dublin” last year after attracting online criticism from unhappy students.
A Spanish student who sought help from the Irish Council of International Students (ICOS), an organisation that campaigns for the rights of international students in Ireland, had paid the school €720 for a four-week course with 16 hours of classes a week only to arrive in Dublin in February to find it based in a small office on Magennis Place, off Pearse Street, and not at 27 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, as its website had advertised.
The student alleges that Derren Hogarty, the school’s owner, was its only teacher and that she eventually had to reclaim her losses through PayPal after he failed to respond to requests for reimbursement after cancelling her second and third class. She also claims not to have received the city centre accommodation and extracurricular services, including a tour of Dublin, a city guide and a SIM card, promised to students by the school.
Photos provided by the student show folding chairs and a small table in its cramped Pearse Street classroom. Another photo shows a message left by students on its whiteboard after a no-show class. “Derren,” it reads. “We were here. It’s ten pas[t] ten o’clock so we are coming back home.”
Another student who cut his course short as a result of teaching conditions in the school had booked eight weeks of studies online before it changed its branding and website to reflect its new name, “Trinity English School”. Vitor Machado was convinced by the school to withdraw a contest to his PayPal payment arising from these concerns until he arrived in Dublin, when he renewed the contest and was successfully reimbursed.
The Brazilian student told Trinity News: “[Mr. Hegarty] sold the school as a school, but by the end of the day it was just a guy with a table. I was completly misled by Derren, and when I realised how wrong I was he refused to refund me. I’ve paid by PayPal, so I’ve managed to get 70% of it back, excluding the first payment.”
Michela Doyle, a teacher who worked for Hogarty for six months when the school was still called “Learn English in Dublin”, told Trinity News that she was one of several staff still owed wages by the school. “We were in the same place until about six weeks after he stopped paying people,” she said. “Then he told all the teachers that the school was closing down and he couldn’t afford to pay anyone.”
Ms. Doyle said that students with different standards of English were placed in one class, though the school advertised an array of classes depending on abilities. “I had a student, Astrid, who invested all of her savings in coming over to Dublin and doing the CAE [Cambridge English: Advanced] course but arrived to find she was in a class with an elementary student and two intermediates,” she said. “Only one other CAE was also stuck in the same class and both went on to fail the exam; both very upset at the situation with Astrid breaking into tears in the class. Of course neither could ever get hold of Derren as he was never in the school unless there was cash coming in from a student.”
In a statement, Dave Moore, spokesperson for the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS), said that the school’ treatment of students highlights the need for stronger regulation of the sector. “The operation of this so-called English school shows that both EU and non-EU students need protection through the robust regulation of private colleges,” he said. “Students coming to Ireland have been amazed to find that anyone can set up a school here with no license or permit. Rogue colleges continue to thrive and students have repeatedly told us how disappointed they feel by the apparent lack of concern or follow-through when they seek help from the authorities.”
The school, which is now based on South Frederick Street, still charges fees ranging from €262 to €3,712 for English language courses. It changed its name to “The English School” on its website after Trinity College initiated an action against it on February 6th. The injunction contests its use of the word “Trinity” in its name, as TCD holds a trademark on it in Ireland. Attempts to reach Mr. Hogarty today were unsuccessful.
Catherine Healy contributed reporting to this piece.