Small rural schools being ‘bullied’ out of existence
Anger as teacher numbers set to drop

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Small primary schools across South Tipperary are facing losing a teacher from next September due to a stealth cutback measure the Minister for Education and Skills introduced in the budget.

Increases to the number of pupils required for small three and four teacher schools to qualify to retain teaching staff will hit rural schools across the county hard next September.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation has raised serious concerns about the new pupil numbers requirement with Education and Skills Minister Ruairi Quinn and appealed to him to rethink the proposals.

The three teacher Newtown Upper National School that serves the rural communities of Faugheen and Ahenny near Carrick-on-Suir is among the South Tipperary schools facing the loss of a teacher under the new rules.

Under the new rules all three teacher schools are required to have 51 pupils backdated to September 30 last to retain all their teaching staff but while Newtown Upper has 52 students at the moment it had just 50 on the roll on September 30 last.

Newtown Upper NS Principal Breda Fitzgerald said the Department is applying the pupil numbers criteria strictly and all three-teacher schools will see that pupil figure jump to 56 in September, 2013.

She views the measure as very disheartening an attempt to “bully” small but very viable schools like theirs out of existence. The loss of their youngest teacher Sarah Jane Dowling, who teaches 5th and 6th class will have a huge impact on the school with two remaining teachers will have to take on her classes.

“It has been working brilliantly with Sarah Jane teaching fifth and sixth classes. The senior students are getting a great chance before going into secondary school.

If she goes we won’t be able to do any of the nice extra curricular activities because we will be trying to fit in all the maths and literacy. We would end up with 26 pupils each over four classes each.

Ms Fitzgerald asked what small schools had done to deserve such an attack?

“Inspection reports show that small schools are achieving results academically both in literacy and numeracy. The schools buildings have been extended and upgraded at a cost to the tax payer. They are comfortable, inviting centres of learning with up to date Information Technology facilities.

“The children are part of their own community giving them a strong sense of identity and belonging.

“The ethos of a small school is family based with older children showing care and responsibility for younger pupils.”

Ms Fitzgerald called on rural communities to mobilise to fight against these teaching cutbacks like they did earlier this year when Minister Quinn commissioned the Value for Money review of small schools with less than 50 pupils.

“Farming organisations,sporting groups and many others concerned with the demise of rural Ireland took the time to submit comprehensive responses supporting small schools and the value they give .

Now the net has been cast wider to bring in 4 teacher schools.

The message is loud and clear to all those in Rural Ireland “Speak up and support your local schools or it may be lost forever”

Meanwhile, the INTO is organising a regional meeting of its members from Tipperary, Clare and Waterford in Cashel on January 12 to draw up a plan of action to reverse the Department of Education’s new pupil numbers criteria for teaching staff numbers.

INTO Clonmel Branch Secretary Aidan Gaughran said the union was conducting a survey of every school in South Tipperary at the moment to establish the direct impacts these cutbacks will have on them and INTO activists plan on lobbying politicians over the Christmas period.

He said the impact on schools will be cumulative as the Department intends increasing the pupil numbers criteria over three years.

“The Labour Party will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its foundation in Clonmel next year and we want to ensure next year that despite the economic situation there will be no cuts in services for children,” he said