Local TD Denis Naughten has welcomed the decision by the Minister for Education to back down on plans to reduce supports for DEIS schools but has also called on him to take a similar approach to plans to cut supports to small rural schools.
“By 2013 rural schools will need 20 pupils to retain two teachers, 56 pupils to retain three teachers and 86 pupils to retain four teachers. The fact is that this will leave a number of small rural schools struggling to survive,” explained Denis Naughten.
“Rural schools are a vital element in rural life, being the heart of the local community. They not only educate the local children but the schools also contribute to social and cultural life and act as a force to retain and attract families into an area.
“There is no doubt that in the current economic climate change is going to have to happen but instead of closing rural schools Government should be working with the education partners to seek further efficiencies, in line with the Croke Park Agreement, which protect front line services. For example this could be achieved by devolving more power to school principals and teachers to make tight budgets go further.
“Rural schools are crucially important to the fabric of the rural community. There is no justification for extremes measures, such as school closures, even from an economic point of view. In rural areas schools could be assisted by grouping them together, so rather than have schools competing with each other for survival they are grouped together with a single management and administration structure, thereby keeping pupils enrolled and educated in their local school.
“Rather than trying to close rural schools by the back door, any policy changes relating to small schools must be considered not just in view of the cost of maintaining small schools but also in terms of the impact of school closures on dispersed rural communities, parental choice, the availability of diversity of school provision and the additional school transport costs.
“The reality is that small rural schools and their communities deserve support based upon more informed, more sensitive and more coherent policies than are presently apparent,” concluded Denis Naughten.