Lifeline for 30 rural schools as teachers kept on
DOZENS of rural schools facing the loss of crucial teaching posts in the coming months have been handed a reprieve following the introduction of new rules surrounding pupil numbers.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has reduced the threshold levels that determine the number of teachers allocated to each school, in a move that will halt the prospect of some schools closing this September.
The Irish Independent has learned that approximately 30 rural schools on the cusp of losing a teacher will now keep hold of the post.
And other rural-based schools in fear of losing a teacher will be able to offer assurances to parents that their current teacher numbers can be maintained.
The new measures being introduced by Ms O'Sullivan focus on protecting one, two, three and four teacher schools - most of which are rural-based.
Previously, three-teacher schools were required to enrol at least 56 pupils otherwise they would lose one teaching post. Ms O'Sullivan has reduced the number to 53, which will provide schools authorities with much needed "breathing space".
Similarly, a two teacher school that failed to meet the 20 pupil threshold was set to lose a post in September under previous rules. This threshold has been lowered by one as a result of the new measures.
And the pupil number threshold for a four-teacher schools is being brought down from 86 to 83, the department said.
The guiding factor behind the Labour Party minister's measures is the fact that enrolment numbers in parts of rural Ireland is in decline.
Isolated schools in particular would struggle to amalgamate with other schools and therefore were on the cusp of losing teacher posts.
The minister has introduced a mechanism in which so-called isolated schools can be defined.
Schools that are now at least 8km apart now fall into this category. In relation to retaining their second teacher, the pupil threshold has been reduced from 20-15.
The final number of schools to benefit from these improvements to the staffing schedule this year will be known in the Autumn after the teacher allocation process has fully transacted.
It's estimated €600,000 will be spent maintaining the 30 additional posts. This funding is being taken out of the department's budget.
The revised thresholds will also benefit small schools experiencing declining enrolment.
The measures announced yesterday have been widely welcomed by teacher unions.
General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), Sheila Nunan, said the measures will give rural-based schools much needed certainty.
"These measures will make a significant contribution to sustaining a network of required schools in rural Ireland," she said.
And the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) said the plan will alleviate concerns among local communities.
The issue of small schools is a critical one for local communities, teachers and management, impinging, as it does, on both the areas of pedagogy as well as health and safety," said General Secretary Fr Tom Deenihan.
However, Fianna Fáil Education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue and his Sinn Fein counterpart Jonathan O'Brien said the measures do not go far enough to addressing the challenges facing schools.
The issue of maintaining rural schools is major concern among backbench TDs who fear was set to become a general election issue.