The Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn needs to take into account the huge contribution that small rural schools make to the community in any review of the sector, according to Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
Speaking in the course of a debate on a matter on the adjournment last week, which Senator Ó Clochartaigh had succeeded in obtaining, he stated that the proposals in the McCarthy report, which proposed to merge all schools with less than a 100 pupils, did not take into account the reality of these schools.
“The local national school, as well as being vital for the education of local children, is central to an area’s identity, and its view of itself. It's often the focus of community activity, and where an area may have lost its shop, its pub and its post office, it still has its National School.
“Studies in Britain have shown that any savings made in closing a school can be offset by the cost in transporting students to larger schools and similar costs.
“According to a report by the Irish Primary Principals Network, the teachers, the students and the communities would all rather the system was kept as is. So why would we change it and potentially do lasting damage to communities, for the sake of tiny savings, which would be defrayed by transport and other costs anyway?”
Senator Ó Clochartaigh also highlighted to the minister the effect any policy of closures would have on the west of Ireland
“Speaking as a West of Ireland Senator, I would note that any policy which would lead to wholesale closures of schools would hit the West particularly hard, where a huge number of small schools are concentrated. There are 68 schools under review in Galway, 68 schools in Mayo, 41 schools in Roscommon, 20 schools in Sligo, 41 schools in Clare and 60 schools under review in Donegal.
“Successive governments have long neglected the west, and we can clearly see that that trend has continued in recent years, with the failure to reinstate funding for Galway Airport, the poor road network, the appallingly slow rollout of Broadband, and the failure to build a western railway corridor. Closing scores of small schools would contribute to this neglect and damage the fabric of the community many of which are under enough pressure as it is due to emigration and unemployment
The Galway West Senator also affirmed the need for the minister to consider the importance of Irish Language ethos within schools in the course of the review
“Gaelscoileanna are absolutely essential for the development of the Irish language, both in Gaeltacht areas and without. The minister should be particularly careful that the growth of the language and of Gaelscoileanna isn’t hampered by a restrictive approach to the area of small schools.”