Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Seán Crowe has said there is growing alarm that the government is determined to introduce measures that would force the closure of small rural schools.
The Dublin South West TD made his comments after challenging Education Minister Ruairí Quinn during yesterday’s sitting of the Dáil.
Deputy Crowe said: “The OECD has acknowledged the importance of small schools in the sustainability and regeneration of rural Ireland. It drew attention to the important role of many small schools in isolated rural communities and emphasised that ‘educational quality and not school size per se’ should be the ‘main criterion’ for rationalisation.
“The new staffing schedules for small schools that were announced in December’s budget are, I believe, an underhanded attempt by the government to force the closure of many rural schools. The changes fail to take into account the needs of pupils, their parents and the wider community. The views of teachers working in these schools have also been ignored.
“I challenged the minister to explain what plans were in place should schools decide to amalgamate. Is there cooperation between the government departments to ensure new school buildings will be in place to accommodate increased numbers? Have problems such as multiple classes in one room, space issues and logistical problems been considered?
“Alternatives to closures and amalgamations should be considered and the possibility of repopulating existing schools rather than constantly expanding already larger schools, often with unsuitable temporary accommodation, should be considered.
“Schools of minority denominations and Irish medium schools should be treated with particular sensitivity. It is important that schools in Gaeltacht areas and those specialising in the teaching of the Irish language are protected.
“Any evaluation of small schools cannot be based on cost alone. Other criteria such as the quality of the educational experience, ensuring stable enrolment trends, the financial position of a school, accessibility and maintaining strong links with the community must all be considered.
“I have asked Minister Quinn to recognise the importance of small schools in rural Ireland and that any viability assessment must have a greater remit than just short-term savings.
“Financial concerns, taken in isolation, may present a potent argument for some who are in favour of closing small schools but this must be counterbalanced by many other considerations. These should include the adverse impact on the child who is being bussed to a different environment, the importance of the rural school in maintaining community cohesion and its role in the preservation of local history, culture, and folklore.” ENDS