Fifth of primary schools 'in danger of losing teacher'
ALMOST one in five primary schools are in danger of losing a teacher and most of these are in Munster and Connacht.
Figures from the Department of Education and Skills show that 544 of the country's 3,153 mainstream schools were under pressure to maintain an extra teacher for this academic year.
And they face a similar situation next year if they don't have the required number of pupils on September 30.
Vice-president of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) Sean McMahon said there was a constant "push" towards more closures and amalgamations.
Mr McMahon, who is a teaching principal at Mullagh National School, a 56-pupil school in west Clare, said: "Sometimes there's a misunderstanding that this is a rural problem.
"It's nationwide, but it's more visible in rural areas, where the last three Budgets have continuously put more pressure on schools of four teachers or less."
He was speaking at a special one-day conference on "rebuilding rural communities", organised by the Irish Rural Dwellers' Association (IRDA).
The conference in Tralee, Co Kerry, examined how government policy had impacted negatively on rural communities and looked at ways this could be addressed. "The biggest difficulty is for schools of 25 pupils or less that find themselves in a position where they lose their second teacher and for those schools it's close to devastation," he said.
The INTO wants the Government to pledge it will not put further pressure on schools by squeezing the number of pupils required for an extra teacher. It also wants the department to examine other criteria such as proximity to other schools and how these schools are essential to their communities.
The conference also heard that children in rural areas were 22pc more likely to go for a walk or a cycle than their urban peers, 20pc more likely to engage in some sort of sporting activity and 29pc more likely to visit relatives or grown ups.
The study by Mary Immaculate College in Limerick surveyed 2,228 school children and 800 parents and examined their mobility and social interaction.
"That is down very much to the volunteers in the community, like the GAA and the schools, who create the opportunities for children in rural Ireland to participate," said Dr Brendan O'Keeffe.
"This is another one of the arguments for investing in rural areas rather than corralling people into urban areas where they don't want to live," he added.
GAA president Liam O'Neill also put forward a proposal for creating employment in rural areas where people would invest €2 each per week, matched by Government, that would go towards a fund for creating employment.
"It could be used for someone who has a business idea and wants to be sure of an income while they're starting off," he said. "If we want to keep people in rural Ireland we have to have jobs for them."
Mr O'Neill said this could be achieved by organisations like the GAA working in partnership with others such as the Irish Farmers' Association, Tidy Towns or the IRDA.