Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Charlie McConalogue says the spectre of closure still remains for many small schools in rural Ireland.
He was speaking following the publication of the Value for Money report on small schools which recommends that an estimated 540 one to two classroom schools – embracing some 18,232 pupils across rural Ireland – should be amalgamated to generate efficiency savings in the Department’s budget.
While Minister O’Sullivan may say that the recommendations of the report will not be accepted, she acknowledged that amalgamation of small rural schools within 8km of each other will be encouraged via voluntary protocols.
The Minister intends to incentivise these amalgamations by providing extra funding to encourage schools with less than 25 pupils to merge.
Deputy McConalogue commented: ‘’While not overtly accepting the recommendations on the amalgamations of small schools issued in this report, Minister O’Sullivan is keen to draw attention to funding being available to schools who agree to merge, while continuing to starve those that do not of adequate resources and teacher allocations. With this strategy, the Minister is attempting to close small rural schools by stealth.
“The Minister’s announcement of changes to teacher retention thresholds in recent days is only a small row back on the cuts to small schools previously introduced by her Government will not lead to any major improvements for many small schools, as the emphasis is on retaining, rather than gaining teachers.
“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.
“The report’s finding that the cost premium of small schools are difficult justify is completely fallacious. It does not take into account the value of small schools to rural communities. Many of these small schools are teetering on the brink of survival because of the punitive measures and cuts contained in the last four Budgets.
“These Communities feel that they have to fight to maintain even basic public services, increasingly facing arguments that they are selfish and wasteful for wanting to keep their schools, which are defined in this report as inefficient.”