We need to get an insight into the culture of small schools
In 2013, 29pc of all primary schools in the Republic of Ireland had four or fewer teachers. These are categorised as small schools by the Department of Education and Skills.
It is easy to identify the challenges faced by small schools as there has been much discussion involving educators, parents, management and patron bodies regarding the threats to small schools in the last five years.
We have far less insight into their culture, and whether there are specific benefits that they offer to learners, parents and teachers as well as the potential challenges that such teaching and learning environments present.
We also have limited insight into the perception of small schools by those who make education policy, draft curricular content and materials and evaluate the effectiveness of schools. This is in stark contrast to the situation in both Finland and England where there has been significant investment in research investigating the cultures and educational climates of small schools.
A collaborative study into small Irish primary schools was launched last week. It was initiated and will be overseen by the Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE). It is being funded by the Church of Ireland General Synod Board of Education (RI), the Church of Ireland Primary Schools Association, the Governors of the CICE and Dublin City University (DCU).
This new study aims to address a gap in our understanding of the cultures of small schools from a wide range of perspectives.
To date, there has been no systematic investigation of the cultures, benefits and challenges of small schools in the Republic of Ireland drawing on the views of teachers, pupils, parents and policymakers.
We are particularly conscious of this in the CICE, where we prepare and support our students to do school placement and subsequently seek employment in small schools working with multi-level classes.
The new study aims to begin to address the gaps in our understandings of small Irish primary schools.
It proposes to engage with schools in the Protestant sector because they are a relatively small cohort that are to be found in both urban and rural locations across the State.
A study conducted by David Tuohy and myself in 2011 with parents of children in primary schools under Protestant patronage yielded very interesting insights into the culture and learning environments of those schools from the perspective of parents.
The new study will provide additional insights into the cultures and educational climates of small schools from a range of perspectives, including those of principals, teachers, members of boards of management and children. It will also seek the views of education policymakers.
It proposes to examine both the challenges and benefits of teaching and learning in a small school context. This will enable us to compare the Irish experience of teaching and learning in small schools with data analysed in Finland and the UK.
It will report by September 2015.
Dr Anne Lodge is Principal of the Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE) and is leading the study