Independent TD Mattie McGrath has expressed grave concern following the reports that hundreds of small, mainly rural schools face the same fate as Ireland’s rural Post Offices, Garda Stations, and Banks unless urgent action is taken.
In the face of growing fears that more than 1,000 schools with under 80 pupils or three teachers or fewer may face closure, Deputy McGrath said this represents an out and out attack on the future sustainability of rural communities:
“What rural community can possibly survive, let alone thrive if prospective dwellers in those areas see little or no opportunity to have their children educated where they live”?
Deputy McGrath called on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to change his calculus of cost-benefit analysis away from the strict financial model he now seems to employ without exception, and move to a more just and proportionate analysis. “Such an analysis would surely take account of the enormous social capital that small rural schools provide for the local community.”
Deputy McGrath went on to note that failure to do so would represent yet another dismal indication that Labour had all but abandoned its pre-election pledges to the people. The now Minister for Education and Science wrote on February 15th, 2011, just before the general election: “The Labour Party has never supported the forcible amalgamation of rural schools”. We see now quite clearly however that Labour has changed its tune yet again to support the decimation of rural education to the benefit of our financial masters.”
Deputy McGrath urged Minister Quinn to seriously re-examine the proposals contained in the “New Horizons for Smaller Schools and Teaching Principalship” report published by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN).
The Report, one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken in Irish schools in recent years explores how schools might co-operate and work together in a variety of ways to identify and meet their needs in agreed local clustering arrangements. Such arrangements are known as “clusters”.
“I am convinced that serious consideration needs to be given to establishing a number of such pilot projects and to providing financial support so that smaller schools can work together in meaningful, innovative, local professional development clusters,”
Deputy McGrath concluded by observing that unless this issue is addressed urgently, we will see more and more smaller schools disappearing from the rural landscape and our children facing long and tedious journeys to school, a situation from no which no one will ultimately benefit.