There are better ways to meet the needs of small rural schools and the savings that need to be made by the Department of Education than through Ruairi Quinn’s current plans.
This is the view of Galway Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames who is calling on her Government colleague, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to “review his position on small rural schools”.
She feels many such schools will be put “in immediate jeopardy” if he follows through on this.
There are some 1,000 small schools throughout the State and it is understood that the Minister is seeking to find 100 teaching posts for the 2012/13 academic year by increasing teacher retention numbers based on last September 2011’s enrolment.
“This date is a problem,” says Sen Healy Eames. “Schools affected include two, three and four teacher schools.”
She gave as an example An Tuairín national school in Béal an Daingin. According to the school’s September 2011 figures, it needed 76 pupils to retain its four class teachers. It had 78 on the roll and “were fine until the new retention numbers were announced” in Budget 2012 which requires that the school must have had 81 pupils in September.
“The school couldn’t have foretold this jump in retention numbers,” said Sen Healy Eames. “What makes their case all the harder is that the three young four-year-olds they needed to retain their fourth teacher were in their school community last September. The school advised parents to allow them to mature further and enrol in September 2012. They have the birth certificates to prove it!”
Sen Healy Eames said An Tuairín’s new pupil number breakdown will mean the school’s pupil teacher ratio will be above the national average of 80 pupils for three teachers.
She pointed out that she was not “a fan of multi-class settings” for better pupil outcomes.
“Evidence reveals that younger pupils learn from their older peers and older pupils gain cognitively by going into ‘teacher mode’ with their younger peers,” she said, “but there comes a tipping point when the class mix is just too close to be advantageous to the children. Similarly, a situation envisaged by 2014 whereby a one teacher school would have 19 pupils across eight classes, spanning four to 12 year olds, is mind boggling.”
Sen Healy Eames is also concerned about upcoming changes in relation to learning support and resource teaching hours. She pointed out that schools in Lettermore, Leitir Caladh, and Tír an Fhia currently share the same learning support and resource teacher.
“Parents and schools with children with Autism and Cerebral Palsy among other learning difficulties reported very high levels of satisfaction with her work,” she said. “Under new arrangements this will now become the work of two teachers and is likely to cost the State more money!”
Sen Healy Eames is calling on Minister Quinn to rethink his position on the matter. She said there are better ways to make savings such as through an increase in the pupil teacher ration “0.6 across all schools would give more posts than needed by 2014”.
“When we are well off again as a nation in 10 or 15 years time, let’s not regret that we have a rural Ireland without young people,” she said. “Let that choice be theirs. In communities where amalgamation may be preferable, let us ask communities to come up with a local solution over a four year period. This will give them time to plan their own futures.”