Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Charlie McConalogue has said that the proposed changes to small school teacher numbers don’t go far enough.  While the changes the Education Minister announced today are a small improvement, nothing less than a full reversal of the damaging measures imposed by former Minister Quinn are required.

Deputy McConalogue commented, “The changes announced by Minister Jan O’Sullivan will not lead to any major improvements for many small schools, as the emphasis is on retaining, rather than gaining teachers.  In fact, the measures could result in a situation whereby schools which are growing could end up with fewer teachers than schools which are losing students. 

“Despite these new retention thresholds, schools which have increased their student numbers from 52 to 55 will still not be entitled to a third teacher, while a school who’s pupil numbers have dropped from 56 to 53 will retain theirs.  This is unfair and unequitable and should be reviewed.  In this instance both schools should be entitled to a third teacher.  Similarly a school that has gone from 82 to 85 pupils this year will not be allocated a fourth teacher whereas a school that has seen a drop from 86 to 83 students will retain its four teachers.

“While this new policy acknowledges the scale of the cuts that small schools have been subjected to, it is more about optics than reflecting the reality on the ground.  Population increases have resulted in a rise in enrolment figures and it is incumbent on the Minister to ensure that schools are equipped to cater for these growing pupil numbers. 

“The plans the government announced in Budget 2012 have been a cause of concern and, indeed, distress in many local communities, especially in rural Ireland.  Small schools play a central role in many areas, especially those with dispersed populations, and the Government’s actions over the past three years has almost dismantled those communities.

“My party and I have been consistent in our call to restore what was lost at the earliest opportunity. Education was at the heart of Fianna Fáil’s pre-Budget submission, in which we proposed additional resources at primary level to reverse the harsh cuts brought in by this Government, as well as a reduction in the pupil teacher ratio.

“Even with today’s announcement the fact remains that a 2-teacher school would need to enrol 36 extra pupils in order to secure and third teacher, while a 3 teacher school would need an additional 30 students to gain a fourth teacher.  This is a completely unfeasible proposal for the majority of small schools, which will struggle to meet those targets and will be penalised as a result.  Minister O’Sullivan must commit to increasing teacher numbers in line with the growing class sizes, rather than on retaining and maintaining the status quo”.