Rural schools face risk of closure

Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) has proposed a model of clustering neighbouring schools to allow them support each other in areas where falling pupil numbers are causing concern over possible closure.

Almost 100 of the country’s 143 Gaeltacht primary schools are among 1,265 which have three teachers or fewer, many of which the IPPN believes are at risk of being either closed or amalgamated with other schools.

“These communities may already have lost their local post office or garda station and they don’t want the local national school to follow,” said IPPN deputy president Tomás Ó Slatara.

He has co-written a major study on small schools with Dr Mark Morgan of St Patrick’s College of Education in Dublin, which is being presented to the IPPN annual conference today. They examined practices in other countries where similar experiences have led to a range of practices to prevent closures.

“There is already some clustering in the aspect of resource teaching and learning support staff, but we would envisage other shared resources, not just personnel,” Mr Ó Slatara said.

“This could include appointing an administrative principal to a number of small schools which are under pressure because the principal is also a full-time teacher,” he said.

Around 2,500 of the country’s primary schools have teaching principals, who receive between 14 and 22 days free from class each year to carry out administrative duties.

Other suggestions to come from the study include the sharing of physical resources such as science and technology equipment, which could also lead to improved value for Department of Education money.

The conference will be addressed this morning by Education Minister Mary Hanafin and Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin will speak to the 750 principals about school ethos and management.

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