One-teacher schools are to be supported to ensure there is always another adult in the building at all times.
The Department of Education has written to an estimated dozen of the 20-plus one-teacher primary schools with a view to rectifying the situation that has become a growing cause of concern in recent years.
It is expected that, through the system of ancillary grants with which primary schools can employ caretakers or secretaries, arrangements will be put in place that will mean a teaching principal will never be the only adult in a school.
In many one-teacher schools, there may already be a special needs assistant (SNA) or another ancillary staff member in employment, meaning issues do not arise.
But the difficulty has been raised about what might happen if the teaching principal becomes ill, if a student needs to be accompanied to receive medical treatment or other circumstances that would raise the prospect of children being left without adult supervision.
Education Minister Joe McHugh told the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) annual conference that he had asked his officials to write to schools without a second adult ordinarily on site. The aim is to identify where such gaps exist and try to redress the situation.
“The department will work towards having a second adult present during the school day. We are now putting steps in place to make sure this can happen,” he said.
The plan was welcomed by delegates at the IPPN event. Its president David Ruddy earlier repeated the organisation’s call for this issue to be addressed.
In a recent report it has given to the department, the Health and Safety Authority and to the Government special rapporteur on child protection Geoffrey Shannon, it said that a key issue is the vulnerability of the principal and the pupils in the event of a critical incident at a school.
The number of one-teacher primary schools fell from 41 in 2000 to less than 10 between 2008 and 2013. But it has risen to between 22 and 26 in more recent years, with averages of 10 pupils or less in each.
Most primary schools must have at least 18 pupils to be allowed to appoint a second mainstream class teacher.