‘Don’t let cutbacks shut rural Ireland’

Parents from rural schools around Cork and Kerry brandished placards at the hurling and football double-header in Cork, urging the Government not to shut down rural Ireland.

More than 100 parents travelled from schools in West Cork and Kerry as part of the Save Our Small Schools group.

Representatives from Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta were also in attendance.

They are concerned that planned reductions in teacher-pupil ratios will sound the death knell of their schools as the smallest schools will be forced to amalgamate with others in the area. Parents, they say, will hesitate to send children to schools where there is just one teacher.

Paul McCarthy is principal at Lauragh NS, about 25km outside Kenmare.

His school is at serious risk of losing one teacher as it has 16 pupils on the roll and will require at least 17 in September to retain its second teacher.

He said: “A school is a vital component in a rural area. It is about more than just education, it’s about binding the community together. The minister has set up a value-for-money review which is essentially judging the viability of a community.”

Joan Mullane is principal of Raheen NS in Glenflesk, Co Kerry. The two-teacher, three-classroom school also houses a playschool and was given funding for a playground in recent years.

“The school is the focal point of the community here. We filled a 52-seat coach today with parents and community members who were determined to fight their corner at today’s match.

“Pupil numbers rise and fall in schools and our fear would be that we might not have the 40 in 2014 and could lose a teacher the following year.

“We are close to the edge and what happens if we don’t have the numbers? Will we just have the school with its playschool, basketball court and new playground abandoned — another empty building in the middle of nowhere?”

Niamh O’Callaghan from Raheen has sent her three children to the school. “This school has provided an A1 education and also, for parents, it’s important they make a lot of friends through the school.”

At Carrigboy, a four-teacher national school in Durrus, West Cork, they also foresee problems in three years’ time.

“It is comfortable at the moment with a natural two-year cycle with the one teacher before you move to a new teacher. If numbers drop we could lose one teacher and you’ll see that two-year cycle disrupted,” said deputy principal Joe O’Driscoll.

“You also have to put these cuts in context as the geographical factor is huge in rural Ireland. The small schools grew up around distinct communities. This is striking at the heart of the community.”

Cian Ó Siochrú is principal at another Kenmare school, Réalt Na Mara, in Tuosist. He has accused Dublin-based civil servants of “taking a compass and drawing a circle around a school without having any regard for how that community works and what it needs”.

The Department of Education will soon notify schools of their staffing arrangements for the 2012/2013 school year. This will include details of the staffing appeals process and appeals criteria for schools that project increased enrolments which could help them keep their teacher numbers.

The minister is arguing that “even when these increases are implemented, the threshold for small schools will still be significantly lower than the minimum of 28 pupils that was required for the appointment of a second teacher in the mid-1990s”.

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