Newly appointed Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is being called on to prioritise small schools and reverse the punitive cuts to teacher numbers which are having a destabilising effect on rural communities, particularly in areas of South Galway and the Gaeltacht.
It seems Minister O’Sullivan will not have much time to settle into her new role before the pressure begins to put an end to the increasing pupil teacher ratio. Almost 40 small schools, including seven in Galway, are set to lose a teacher this September. The policy brought in by former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has resulted in up to 79 teacher posts being lost nationally following 2012 and 2013 cuts. The next round of cuts will result in a total of 118 teachers posts lost. From this September a school will need a minimum of 20 pupils to retain two teachers, 56 pupils to retain three teachers, and 86 pupils to have four teachers.
These figures were confirmed in a reply to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West Éamon Ó Cuív, who expressed concern that as a result of changes made in Budget 2012 18 small schools across Galway and Mayo are to lose a teacher this year.
“This Budget decision has forced 39 small schools across the country to reduce their teacher numbers this year. Almost half of all of those are in Galway and Mayo, and is further evidence of this Government’s concerted targeting of rural areas. These areas have very dispersed populations, and the school is at the heart of the community. Despite their importance, the Government is pressing ahead with its plan to dismantle the school network in the West of Ireland.
“Communities in Galway and Mayo have already seen essential services savaged, with the closure of garda stations, harsh cuts to LEADER companies and now a further assault on small schools. This move will see pupil teacher ratios increase again, and will put additional pressure on the teachers in these schools. The Government needs to realise the importance of small rural communities, particularly in the west as it has been targeted unfairly. It commissioned the CEDRA report, but has failed to implement any of its policies, choosing instead to press ahead with strategies that run contrary to the interests of rural communities. It is time to stop this assault and start the rebuilding process,” said Deputy Ó Cuív, who added that over the last three years there have been between 20 to 30 schools in Galway affected. It is expected that replies to further parliamentary questions will be received by this evening.
There are currently 231 small schools in Galway and of that 53 are at risk of losing a teacher within a year or two, warned INTO (Irish National Teachers’ Organisation ) rep for Galway and Roscommon and principal of Lough Cutra National School in Gort Joe Killeen. Mr Killeen told the Galway Advertiser that if the pupil teacher ratio remains at the same level “more schools will fall” and the number of one teacher schools will increase. This has had a destablising affect on rural communities who are now vying with one another to keep their schools strong and vibrant and many small schools in Galway being forced to amalgamate or close.
“The whole idea of the increase in the pupil teacher ratio is a shining example of a cost saving measure whose very limited benefit for the exchequer far outweighs its negative influence on communities and community life in rural Ireland,” said Mr Killeen, who added that South Galway and areas of the Gaeltacht have been badly affected.
“The Gaeltacht areas are particularly affected. If teachers are reduced more parents will be forced to send their children to other areas, further eroding the Gealtacht. South Galway is also badly affected,” said Mr Killeen who added that his own three-teacher school is on the cusp of losing a teacher while others in South Galway, which have been upgraded considerably in the past few years, will be reduced to one teacher.