Minister considers pupil-ratio changes to save schools
Education Minister Joe McHugh has raised the prospect of reducing the number of pupils small schools will need to have a certain quota of teachers.
Growing numbers of schools in rural areas are seeing their enrolments fall, putting them at increasing risk of closure.
Mr McHugh's home county of Donegal is one of several - particularly along the west coast - which have seen a drop in primary pupil numbers this year.
Enrolments nationally have levelled off but while some schools, particularly around cities, are still experiencing a surge in numbers, the reverse is happening in small rural communities.
The minister raised the issue at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation where he announced a symposium about small schools in June.
"I expect that it will be a valuable input to the development of policy as I work with my colleagues in Government in strengthening rural Ireland.
"We are looking at declining rural communities from a population point of view so we have to be much more focused. We have to do preliminary work to ensure we hold on to what we have," he said.
Crucially, he said he was "listening very closely to the need for pupil-teacher ratio changes in small schools".
He told delegates he came from a rural area and knew "the role that small schools play in their communities. They are part and parcel of the very fabric of rural life ."
About 23pc of primaries - 708 - have 60 or fewer pupils this year, but they represent only 4pc of enrolments. The number of such schools has dropped 10pc since 2010.
At the height of the financial crisis, the number of pupils a small school needed to appoint or retain a second, third or fourth teacher increased and falling enrolments now make it more difficult to keep those teachers and, ultimately, to survive.