• Comment

Widespread closure of rural schools must be avoided

Wednesday, 23rd March, 2011 5:00pm

Story by Tadhg Carey
Jump to comments

Proposals to possibly close or amalgamate rural schools are currently being examined by the Department of Education and Skills.

Last week the department received final representations from interest groups as it embarks on a review of all schools with fewer than 50 pupils to examine whether they represent value for money.

When the process was announced early in the year, then Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn (now Minister for Education) welcomed the review, saying the country was not getting "value for money" from the current set up.

Mr Quinn said he favoured clustering small schools together, so they could look at options such as having all the children in junior classes taught in one school and those in senior classes taught in another nearby. He also said they could share secretaries and a board of management.

The new Minister's apparent willingness to consider restructuring rural schools will be an issue of concern for local communities across the Midlands.

Apparently, one fifth of all primary schools in Ireland - or just under 600 - cater for fewer than 50 pupils. They are all two or one-teacher schools and most are in rural areas.

The McCarthy report recommended amalgamating all of these schools with others to save an estimated Ä18m.

The Government should step forward with caution though.

There may well be justifiable cases where several small rural schools in close proximity to each other could be clustered or amalgamated. There may also be question marks over the long-term viability of one-teacher schools due to possible health and safety issues.

But these exceptions shouldn't be used to allow a wholesale dismantling of the existing rural schools network.

In many cases, the notion of amalgamating small rural schools makes little sense - as they tend to serve their own small rural hinterlands and may not be close to any other small rural school. There's the potential cost too of having to build an extension or even a new school to facilitate the amalgamated schools.

In many small rural areas, the presence of a local school means that parents can transport their kids to and from school. If the service is further away, there may also be extra costs to the State of providing formal school bus transport systems.

More importantly though is that which is less easily calculated but far more important: the social cost of closing a further rural service.

Ireland is a predominantly rural country. But in recent years, the closure of rural garda stations, rural post offices and the decline of the village pub means that rural life is being dismantled.

Broadband provision in parts of rural Ireland is still poor, local churches are also being clustered due to declining vocations, turf cutting rights are under threat and in the last decade or two there has been a flight of farmers from the land.

Rural Ireland appears to be an easy target at present and whilst in our current economic woes every financial saving should be considered - we must also examine the wider impact on our society of proposed cutbacks.

In that context, the wholesale closure of rural schools would be a step too far.

Latest Video

€50 for 6 months (24 editions) of the Westmeath Independents. Ideal gift for those who have everything. Subscribe for free here.

Post a Comment

Cookies on Westmeath Independent website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. We also use cookies to ensure we show you advertising that is relevant to you. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Westmeath Independent website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie settings at any time by amending your browser settings.
How does Westmeath Independent use cookies?
Cookies enable us to identify your device, or you when you have logged in. We use cookies that are strictly necessary to enable you to move around the site or to provide certain basic features. We use cookies to enhance the functionality of the website by storing your preferences, for example. We also use cookies to help us to improve the performance of our website to provide you with a better user experience.
We donít sell the information collected by cookies, nor do we disclose the information to third parties, except where required by law (for example to government bodies and law enforcement agencies).
Hide Message