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Saturday 23 August 2014

Forty small schools to lose a teacher from September

Katherine Donnelly

Published 11/07/2014 | 02:30

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Almost one in three of the 39 schools dropping a teacher are on Mr Kenny’s doorstep in Mayo
Almost one in three of the 39 schools dropping a teacher are on Mr Kenny’s doorstep in Mayo

ALMOST 40 small schools are set to lose a teacher this September, including 11 in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's home county.

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Almost one in three of the 39 schools dropping a teacher are on Mr Kenny's doorstep in Mayo.

It is a sharp reminder to the Taoiseach of the impact of his Government's decision to target one, two, three and four-teacher schools for cuts.

The issue is causing problems for Fine Gael TDs in rural areas, not least Mr Kenny himself.

The future of small schools is among the concerns uppermost in Fine Gael minds as negotiations continue on the make-up of the new Cabinet.

It is being suggested as a reason why Fine Gael would like to take control of the Education portfolio from Labour.

New figures from the Department of Education show that 39 small schools will lose a teacher in September – and 11 of them are in Mayo.

Overall, schools in 15 counties will be down one teacher when they reopen for the new term.

It arises from a decision announced by outgoing Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in the Government's first Budget, in December 2011. It has already cost the jobs of 79 teachers in small schools.

The final round of cuts in September brings the total number of teacher losses under this measure to 118 – fewer than the 250 envisaged originally.

However, a Value for Money review on small schools, which has been under consideration in the department for over a year, is likely to pose a further threat to the future of small schools, if it is ever published.

The report has been gathering dust on the department's shelves because of Fine Gael sensitivities on the issue.

The changes in staffing arrangements for small schools have affected those with fewer than 86 pupils.

Appeals

In 2011, a two-teacher school needed 14 pupils to retain its teachers; a three-teacher school needed 51 pupils; while a four-teacher school needed 81 students to retain its four teachers.

From September, a school will need a minimum of 20 pupils to retain two teachers; 56 pupils to employ three teachers; and 86 pupils to have four teachers.

The September teacher allocations are based on a school's enrolments last autumn, but there is an appeals process, following which some schools retained their teacher.

The latest figures were released by Mr Quinn in a parliamentary reply, in which he said the final position on the overall staffing would not be finalised until the autumn when actual enrolments were known.

Mayo Fianna Fail TD Dara Calleary described it as "yet another attack by this Government on small schools".

Irish National Teachers' Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan said the situation facing many small schools in rural Ireland was completely unacceptable.

Ms Nunan said Mr Quinn's year-on-year increases to pupil numbers in small schools had led to overcrowded classes and spread unnecessary fear.

She said this was fundamentally unfair to small rural communities already dealing with the withdrawal of other services, isolation and emigration.

Ms Nunan said many were looking at the loss of a school and a fair policy must include the value provided by the school to small, rural communities.

Irish Independent

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