Primary schools are “not a business” and treating them as such will be to the detriment of children’s education with consequences that will be felt for years to come, warned Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO ) Galway branch secretary Michael Gallagher.
Speaking from the INTO conference in Killarney Mr Gallagher, a teacher at Scoil Einde in Salthill, told the Advertiser yesterday that members were frustrated and that there was increased insecurity about the future of primary education. Citing problems such as changes to the teacher-pupil ratio Mr Gallagher accused the Minister of Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, of not fully understanding the role that primary schools play in the community and the adverse effects that cuts will have on children’s education.
“The Minister said that he understands our anger but that from a financial point of view there is nothing that he can do. From our point of view he doesn’t seem to understand the way schools operate and the part they play in the community. It is not a business. The Troika is telling us to run everything like a business. We are there to educate children and if we deprive them of that then we are going to reap the consequences in the years ahead.”
Minister Quinn received a frosty reception from the 750 or so delegates when he arrived at the conference at the Gleneagle Hotel on Tuesday. More than 40 teachers from small rural schools staged a silent protest during Mr Quinn’s address, many of whom held up placards emblazoned with the words “Government policy - to hell or to Connacht” and “Are cuts only for country buffs?”.
“We decided to stage the silent protest because of the huge cuts in primary education,” explained Mr Gallagher, who added that Minister Quinn is yet to reverse the changes that will adversely affect rural schools. “What he is doing is drastic. Schools had to have at least 49 students to appoint a third teacher, now that has been increased to 56 students. For four-teacher schools the number has been increased from 81 students to 86. There are a huge number of schools that are now going to lose a teacher.
“In Galway city most of the schools are not affected by this, it is the small rural schools. Statistics show that 70 per cent of schools in Ireland are four teacher or less. This is going to force a lot of small schools to close or to amalgamate. We are not against amalgamation but it must be done in an orderly fashion and with consent, and not forced. We’re asking the Minister to allow a debate to take place.”
Mr Gallagher also branded as “ridiculous” the Education Department’s decision to build a new primary school in Knocknacarra when there is an existing school in need of extensions and other schools in Galway with vacant classrooms. “I was part of a deputation to a meeting in Tullamore recently to give the facts on the ground. There were nine schools from Galway represented, including three primary schools in Salthill and two in Knockncarra. Between us we were able to offer 26 vacant classrooms. Instead they are planning to build a brand new 24 classroom school. They don’t seem to be dealing with reality at all, they don’t need another school. It does not make sense,” he said before adding that INTO members have agreed to set up a task force to examine the future of small schools and compile a report which will be discussed at a special congress in June.