TEACHERS have welcomed assurances from Education Minister Ruairi Quinn that there are no plans to close small primary schools.
Concern has been mounting in rural communities in recent months about an ongoing review by Mr Quinn’s department into value for money from the resources given to hundreds of smaller schools.
But he told the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) annual congress that the study is not driven by ideology, with no policy decisions yet taken and no particular outcome being sought. It is examining the 650 schools with 50 pupils or less.
“This is part of an overall requirement across all Government departments to have a rolling programme of such studies. The study is simply about ascertaining the facts to inform future decisions,” he said.
Mr Quinn later told reporters that the review should be completed by the end of this year and he would only make decisions based on the findings that emerge. But he said the public campaigning has left him under no illusion about the strength of feeling on the issue.
INTO president Jim Higgins welcomed the commitment and said a shadow had been hanging over smaller schools since the An Bord Snip Nua report in 2009 recommended hundreds of them be amalgamated to save costs.
“In parts of Ireland, the only infrastructure left is the school. Other community resources have been systematically stripped out as policy makers, intentionally or otherwise, pursue a campaign of urbanisation, mainly on cost grounds.”
The union’s submission to the review said there are no educational reasons to close viable schools and international research has said small schools are invaluable to pupils, families, communities and societies.
Mr Higgins said that, while much of the financial hardship facing increasing numbers of households remains hidden, schools get an insight into the real struggle facing many people when school book lists are prepared every years. “Decisions taken by some publishing companies to introduce new sets of books have more to do with increasing profits than education.”
The minister told more than 700 delegates he appreciates that they and their colleagues see the devastation the economic crisis has brought to families at first hand. He also praised the tradition of volunteerism among teachers that contributes generously to many activities such as sports, music and the arts and is one of the education system’s real strengths.
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