Wednesday 21 March 2018

Faughart NS opens with only six pupils

Fears for future of National school

Margaret Roddy

It was eerily quiet at Faughart NS when the new school year began last Wednesday. Birdsong was the only sound to be heard - no squeals of excitement as children met up with their friends after the summer holidays, no sobs as infants left their parents' sides to enter the classroom for the first time.

The country school has been at the centre of a long running dispute which has resulted in the vast majority of parents withdrawing their children for the coming school year.

Just six pupils from three families turned up at the school, which has been at the heart of the local community for over fifty years, last Wednesday morning.

The rest of the 53 pupils who had been on the roll book in June are now making the journey to schools outside the parish, away from their friends.

Headmaster Aidan Brady politely declined to comment on the situation which sees three teachers, a shared resource teacher and a secretary now working in a school with just six pupils. He returned to teaching duties at the school after a period of administrative leave which commenced in December 2012.

All queries must be put to the manager, who was appointed by the school's patron, Archbishop Eamon Martin, he said. A request to take photographs was refused - the consent forms which parents must sign in order for their children's photographs to be taken hadn't been sent out. The school's website which hadn't been updated over the summer, is now down for maintenance.

With just one new pupil enrolled for junior infants this year, local people are worried about the future of the school.

Those parents who sent their children to schools outside the parish have done so reluctantly.

A post on the Save Faughart NS Facebook page states: 'We all know that it could have been different - if the Church and the Department of Education had engaged with the community in a meaningful, understanding and respectful manner. They didn't invite us to one single meeting. Instead, their offerings came remotely, in some cases with standard letters and in many cases with closed doors, often with a myopic insistence on doing things their way. At this moment, the silence from the Department of Education is shameful, while the rhetoric from the church is insulting.'

The numbers attending the school dropped dramatically in recent years from over 100 in 2011 to 53 last year and parents staged a one day protest earlier in the year as they grew frustrated when their concerns, backed by a Department of Education inspection report, weren't addressed to their satisfaction.

'It's not a closed book, if we can be given the reassurances we want, we would bring our children back and I know there are others who feel the same way,' said one parent.

Fr Patrick Rushe, the Education Secretary of the Archdiocese of Armagh commented in a statement: 'The appointment of a suitably experienced single manager for Scoil Naisiunta Bhride, Faughart, was undertaken with the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills and following the legal dissolution of the Board of Management.

'In making this appointment the Patron was operating within the constraints of his responsibilities as Patron and with the firm hope and commitment that the issues that have arisen in SN Bhride will be resolved within an acceptable time frame.

'The Patron has emphasised repeatedly the necessity of everyone operating within agreed procedures if progress is to be made in resolving the concerns that have arisen in Faughart. Failure to follow agreed procedures will not, in the view of the Patron, facilitate the outcome to which all aspire - which is a happy and thriving school.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills said the Inspectorate report had 'identified a number of aspects of the work of the school that required improvement', pointing out that 'responsibility for implementing recommendations in an inspection report rest with the management and patron of a school.'

'It is the duty of the board of a school to manage the school on behalf of the school's patron and for the benefit of the students and their parents,' continued the spokesperson.

Noting that the board of the school resigned and a single manager was appointed by the patron in June 2017 to manage the school, she stated: 'It is the responsibility of the manager of the school, acting on behalf of the school's patron, to take the steps necessary to addresses the issues identified in the inspection report and to ensure that provision in the school is improved.' The Department understands that the manager has begun this work, and the Department does not wish to comment further on the steps that the manager is taking in this specific case.

'However, in schools where significant difficulties or weaknesses are identified, a range of steps may be taken to improve practice. For example, additional professional development can be provided by Department-funded support services to the staff of such a school if that is required. Typically, the Department requires reports from the management of the school on the steps that are being taken to improve provision in the school. In addition, the Department's Inspectorate will typically carry out further follow-through inspections to monitor the implementation of recommendations and the reports of these inspections are published. Throughout this process, officials from the Department engage with the management and patron of the school so as to ensure that provision is improved.'

The Argus