Fianna Fail irate at delay in small schools report

A delay of 18 months in the Government publishing a report on the future of smaller primary schools has been criticised in the Dáil.

While Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is to be replaced in the Cabinet reshuffle, the value-for-money review by his department has been under consideration since early last year.

It is believed to include options to shut some of the smallest schools, a divisive matter between Fine Gael and Labour ministers.

But Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said that it was unacceptable that hundreds of schools likely to be affected by its recommendations continue to face uncertainty without any debate on the issue.

He was responding to Minister of State Seán Sherlock who told the Dáil yesterday that he could not give a precise publication date, only saying it would be published as soon as his Government colleagues had finalised their considerations of the report and its recommendations.

“The report contains much detailed technical data in relation to the small schools in the primary sector and also contains a suite of recommendations and options,” he said.

Mr Sherlock said many issues have to be considered, such as diversity of provision in an area, ethos of schools, language of instruction, school transport costs and the location of small schools relative to each other.

Mr McConalogue, however, said small schools around the country have been subject to very significant cuts to teacher numbers and funding while the minister and the department have been sitting on the report for a year-and-a-half.

“It’s unacceptable we would continue to see that kind of approach and measures being taken which many believe to be in the value-for-money review, without the Government being up front, honest and publishing that review so we can have a proper debate,” he said.

Mr Quinn repeatedly told opposition TDs that he wanted to publish the report but it was understood Coalition tensions over the action to be taken on foot of its recommendations are behind the delay.

Fine Gael backbench TDs face particular pressure in rural constituencies over any threat to small schools, having felt the brunt of local campaigns against reductions to their favourable staffing levels under Mr Quinn’s education budgets.

Education statistics published by the department last week showed that 1,351 primary schools — over two-in-five of all 3,286 in the country — have less than 100 pupils while 600 have less than 50.

Mr McConalogue said many schools are uncertain if they will be able to operate in the next two to three years.

“It’s not acceptable that you dilly dally around, considering or not considering a report while that type of situation pertains in our primary schools,” he said.


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