30th January 2012

I am challenging the Government to show their commitment and support for rural schools and reverse the Budget cuts which will have a devastating effect on small schools throughout the constituency. The Minister’s announcemne that he will review the budetary decision to reduce supports for disadvantaged schools are most welcome however rural schools must be included in any review.

The changes to required pupil numbers as introduced at the end of last year will be catastrophic for smaller rural schools in Tipperary and Offaly and will result in the loss of teachers and possibly closure or amalgamation for some schools. The Department of Education has estimated that this cutback will result in the loss of 250 teaching posts, nationally, over the next 3 years.

Under the Budget plans, the pupil-teacher ratio in small schools, mainly in rural areas, will be increased over the next two years. This effectively means that by the academic year 2014/2015 a school will be required to have 86 pupils to retain four teachers, 56 pupils for three teachers and 20 pupils to maintain 2 teachers in a school. To add insult to injury this applies on a retrospective basis, that is to say that next years teaching allocation is based on the enrolment for September of last year.

Since the effect of this decision has come to light I have been contacted by a large number of rural schools across the constituency. This decision means that dozens of teaching posts will be lost in Tipperary. Many of the principals I spoke to feel frustrated and annoyed with the way in which this announcement was made. It was only after examining this announcement closely that the true implications were made clear. I feel that these changes are effectively closing rural schools through stealth and by imposing these changes they are forcing rural schools to examine the possibility of amalgamation.

I have raised this issue with the Minister on a number of occasions and he has refused to re-examine or review this issue. He has simply stated that this proposal is designed to increase fairness across the primary school sector as traditionally rural schools enjoyed a lower pupil teacher ratio. While this may be the case, this disregards the unique position of rural schools and the vital service they provide. The Minister also said that the existing staffing schedule acts as a disincentive for smaller schools to consider amalgamation.

This decision will rip the heart out of rural Ireland and decimate our rural schools. Our smaller schools are an integral part of rural life and a vital resource for communities. There schools are a focal point in a local community and allow children, who are frequently live in remote areas, to be educated close to home, surrounded by friends and neighbours. It spares parents the cost and inconvenience of travelling, what may be a significant distance, to a larger school in the next town or village.

Rural schools are the lifeblood of rural communities. This Government has repeatedly attacked the rural way of life and this decision highlights that. I am calling on Minister Quinn to review the devastating effect this decision will have on rural schools as a matter of urgency.

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