Primary school opens in Dublin ... with just one pupil

A new primary school opened in Tallaght this week with just one pupil — but will stay open if enough children enrol in the next few weeks.

The Department of Education said multi-denominational Scoil Aoife was established to meet a demographic need.

Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board invited applications for enrolments at the school last spring. But despite low levels of interest, it was decided last month to open the new community national school anyway.

The sole female junior infant pupil has been in class with teaching principal Stacey McAuley, but child protection regulations mean another person also has to be in class with them.

The training board is now waiting to see if more children will enrol by the end of next week.

The Department of Education told the Irish Examiner it will meet with the managing authority to discuss the enrolment situation for this year and next year.

“It is not unusual for new schools to commence with low numbers and for enrolments to increase once the school is established. The school in question is expected to have higher numbers in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson said.

Although there are now three multi-denominational schools within just over a mile of each other, six Catholic and Church of Ireland schools operate within the same distance from Scoil Aoife with around 2,500 pupils. The nearest multi- denominational school other than that is a gaelscoil about 6km from where the new school opened in temporary accommodation at Brookfield Youth and Community Centre.

The department announced in 2011 that three new primary schools would open in this part of Dublin. The ETB (formerly Co Dublin Vocational Education Committee) was chosen to be patron in March 2012 for one in west Tallaght.

It was originally scheduled to open a year ago, and another ETB-run community national school opened just over a mile away at Citywest in September 2012. So too did an Educate Together school, also with a multi-denominational ethos, and both have admitted two classes of junior infants each autumn since then.

There may have been an expectation that families who could not get places in those schools would send children to Scoil Aoife.

The situation could create anger in rural communities, where small schools have been subjected to staffing changes and pressure for closures or amalgamations in recent years. It may also strengthen claims by Catholic education leaders that demand for alternative school options is nothing like that claimed by former minister Ruairi Quinn.

There are now nine community national schools, operated by ETBs in Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Cork, and more than 70 Educate Together primary schools, all with a multi-denominational ethos. But almost 90% of the country’s’ 3,200 primary schools are still under Catholic patronage, with no prospect of patronage changes except in some urban areas.

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