Saturday 25 May 2019

'It is such a shame' - parents and teachers shocked as Ireland's only segregated Traveller school to close

Liveline hears from teacher, parent and principal as the State's only segregated school is set to close

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Sean Nolan

The only segregated post-primary school in the country for Travellers is set to close this June.

The school, St Thomas' in Clonshaugh in Dublin,  has 33 students from the Travelling community enrolled but will close in 10 weeks.

Speaking on Liveline to Joe Duffy today, a teacher in the school John White called the decision "unreasonable" and the impact now will be these students falling out of the education system.

"We have people in fifth year and third year," he said. "They are going to cut loose and finish off education because they won't feel comfortable going into a new school."

The school was set up in Booterstown in 1981 and moved to Clonshaugh in 1983. Though it has an open-door policy only children from the Travelling community currently attend, according to Mr White.

According to a statement from the Department of Education the closure is implementation of a policy introduced in 2006 to end segregation in schools. 

Mr White said that while he wasn't arguing for segregation, he felt for the students it was "such a shame, such an injustice".

"We are telling them that we are closing and off you boys go," he added. "It doesn't feel right to me."

Anne McDonagh, whose son attends the school told Joe Duffy she was "very disappointed and shocked" by the news.

"I was informed on Thursday or Friday last week. I am very disappointed and shocked. My son did well in Junior Cert and I was pushing him to do his Leaving Cert. The plan was for him to do the Leaving Cert, maybe go to university, get a job.

"Now he has told me he is not going to finish education in another school. All his friends go to St Thomas'. He is being separated from his school, his friends, his teachers."

The school's principal Bernie McCloskey said that Travellers are 50 times less likely to do the Leaving Cert compared to the settled community and that while she was aware of the Department's policy towards segregated schools, she was shocked at the manner in which they carried it out.

"There should be a phasing out so that the students in the Leaving Cert will be looked after and everything can be done to support them.

"We were shocked there was no phasing out process or a discussion with the stakeholders."

In a statement the Department of Education said: "The Department is committed to improving educational outcomes for members of the Traveller and Roma communities.

"St Thomas’s Clonshaugh is a school with Special School designation dating from a period when separate education provision for members of the Traveller community was the norm.  

"The phasing out of segregated education provision for Traveller children began in 2006 in accordance with Government policy which was developed in consultation with Traveller representative groups.    

"St Thomas’s is currently the only remaining education centre for segregated post-primary provision for Traveller students in the country.

"The Department of Education and Skills has been engaging with the Patron of St Thomas’ for many years to progress the transfer of its student cohort to the mainstream school system in line with this agreed national policy. 

"It is important to note that, as with all schools under private patronage, the decision in relation to school closure, amalgamation etc. rests with the patron."

In a statement the patron of the school, the Dublin Diocese, said: "The department informed the patron in March last that given the departmental  inclusion policy on Traveller education and following an inspection carried out by them at the end of last year,  they considered the arrangements for and delivery of education provision at St Thomas were not appropriate to meet the educational needs of the current school cohort.

"The department informed the Diocesan education offices that it proposed to transfer relevant supports (grants)  for St Thomas to the mainstream school system with effect from the end of current school year. The department also requested that no further pupils be enrolled with immediate effect and that they would not consider applications for funding.

"The Diocesan education department sought assurances that the current leaving cert students would be able to finish their studies this year. I understand the education welfare services of Tusla will secure places for the current school student population in mainstream post primary schools for September 2018."

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