Local TD, Denis Naughten has been informed by the Minister for Education that he intends to introduce a new category for small rural schools, namely “isolated school status” in order to support local schools where children would be forced to travel long distances.
The Minister informed Denis Naughten during a recent debate in the Dáil on small rural schools, where Deputy Naughten stated “I fear that in some communities children as young as four will have to be bussed or driven long distances on bad roads during the winter. That should not be the objective of our education system”.
Denis Naughten went on to say “It is difficult at present for small rural schools to make plans. They are haemorrhaging populations through emigration and will also have to deal with the impact of the changes to school transport policy which comes into effect next September. It is difficult to plan when one is standing on shifting sand”.
“If a stay of execution was given to allow them to consider the potential for clustering and demographic changes in the short to medium term, particularly in the context of school transport changes, they would be in a better position to assess their viability”.
Responding the Minister for Education told Denis Naughten that he was in the process of reviewing the policy on rural schools stating that “categories that I imagine will emerge at the end of this process will be “isolated schools” and “schools”. Some kind of support will have to be provided for isolated schools. In the meantime I encourage schools which have the option to amalgamate, co-operate or otherwise cluster to do so. The options are less evident in the communities to which Deputy Naughten refers. This is why we will have to consider a definition for isolated schools – I am speaking aloud rather than setting out a formal policy – as distinct from small schools and other schools. This country eliminated more than 2,000 schools in the 1960s and 1970s for all sorts of reasons and nobody wants to go back there. Whatever we do in the future, it has to work for families, pupils and educational outcomes”.