26 June, 2019 - Ministers McHugh and Ring host Consultation Symposium on sustaining small schools

Education stakeholders invited to discuss policy to strengthen and support small schools

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister for Community and Rural Development Michael Ring T.D. will today host a day-long consultation with education stakeholders on initiatives to sustain and strengthen small schools.

The event, at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, involves representatives from Government, patrons, management and representative bodies and unions in a bid to tap in to the knowledge of those with experience of life in a small school.

Minister McHugh said: “My aim in holding this consultation is to bring together all of the knowledge and collective experience of those who teach in, manage and support small schools every day.

“We want to find every possible way of helping those schools to move from surviving to thriving.” 

Minister McHugh said the symposium is a first step in the process of developing new policy aimed at sustaining and strengthening small primary schools.

Following the event in the Hugh Lane, the discussions will continue at the Primary Education Forum, which was established to facilitate the exchange of information between the Department, agencies, teachers, school leaders and managers. It is intended that the forum’s work on this issue will inform policy development by the Department of Education and Skills over the coming months. 

Small schools are defined as schools with four mainstream teachers or fewer. There are over 1,380 small schools in Ireland, almost 44 per cent of all primary schools. Approximately 14.8 per cent of primary school pupils attend a small school.

Minister McHugh said: “Small schools can and do provide an excellent education to our children, right in the heart of their communities. I went to a small school as a child. I live in an area where small schools are a facet of life and that is replicated up and down the country. They are often the heartbeat and lifeblood of a community.

“Almost half of our schools are small schools, and almost 15 per cent of our children attend one. The Government is committed to supporting and strengthening these schools, to ensure their long-term sustainability. “Ní neart go cur le chéile – we need to work together to find new ways of supporting small schools.” 

The symposium is to look at issues around school governance, compliance and protection, appropriate development and progression supports for teachers and pupils’ access to a well-rounded education. 

It provides a forum for the education sector to share their perspectives on the unique opportunities small schools offer while also proposing ideas for sustaining and growing these schools.

Another aspect of the event is to strengthen ongoing collaboration on the subject between representatives at the event, the Department of Education and Skills and other Government departments.

Minister Ring said: “The small schools of Ireland, in particular in rural areas, are a focal point for communities. Small rural schools play an essential role in sustaining populations and encouraging families to live in rural areas. In planning for the future sustainability of our rural communities, schools are a key element. 

“My Department’s CLÁR programme has invested extensively in playgrounds for many small rural schools and in traffic calming measures around these schools in order to support the schools and the communities they serve. 

“I thank Minister McHugh for taking the initiative to bring together those with expertise in the importance of small schools, to explore how they serve rural communities into the future.” 

The Department of Rural and Community Affairs is also planning consultation on its new strategy on rural affairs.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Small schools are defined for statistical purposes as schools with four mainstream teachers or fewer. Approximately 1,370 schools met this definition in 2018; 44 per cent of all primary schools. 

Some 14.5 per cent of primary school age children attend small schools. That is 81,259 pupils out of a total primary population of 559,548.

The distribution of teacher allocations in small schools is as follows:·        

Number of 1 teacher schools = 19       

Number of 2 teacher schools = 548     

Number of 3 teacher schools = 397     

Number of 4 teacher schools = 415

Ten islands have only one school and each of these schools have two teachers. There are two islands off Donegal and Galway, Árainn Mhór and Inis Mór, that each have two schools. 

Some of the new initiatives that have been taken in recent years to support small schools include:

Reduction in staffing and pupil teacher ratios·        

Since 2012 there have been improvements in the appointment and retention thresholds for two-teachers schools, there have also been improvements to the primary staffing schedule which reduced the general average pupil teacher ratio for the 2016/17 year to 27:1 and for the 2018/19 school year to 26:1. This measure brings the teacher allocation ratio in all primary schools to the most favourable ever seen at primary level. Other improvements include the appointment of a second teacher where the school is the sole primary school on an island and a mechanism whereby a one teacher school with an enrolment of 15 or more pupils, across 6 or more class groups, can apply to the staffing appeal board for a second post.

 Second adult·        

One teacher schools have been written to by the Department to determine if there is a possible gap in having a second adult present for the duration of the school day. The presence of a second adult helps to address health and safety concerns.  Where a gap is identified the school can receive additional capitation funding to cover this gap. Schools retain discretion on how to achieve this.

 Shared governance structure trial

· A pilot shared governance structure is in place since 2015 and it has been agreed to continue to allow schools operate the arrangement on a voluntary and pilot basis during the four year term up to 30 November 2023. The pilot allows two schools which are under the same patronage to operate a shared governance arrangement subject to the agreement of the patron. While each board operates as a separate legal entity the benefit of a shared governance arrangement is that the same group of people are managing issues that arise in a consistent manner in each of the two schools. 

Out of hours usage

·  Schools are often the centre of sustainable communities and there can be mutual benefits in building links with the local community. While the management of school premises at local level is a matter for the relevant school authorities the use of school buildings for recreational and community purposes is encouraged by my Department.  Following consultation with the management bodies for schools the Department published Guidelines on the use of School Buildings outside of School Hours in October 2017.

 Supports for leaders

· School leaders have a key role to play in determining the shape of our schools and student outcomes.  Recent developments including coaching and mentoring for school leaders and proposed changes to the appointment procedures for principals in primary schools are designed to further develop our leaders of learning.

Increased funding

· Schools will receive a 5% increase in capitation from September 2019.  This increase is the beginning of the process for the partial restoration of capitation, as resources permit.  

Student and Parent Charter

· Work is continuing on the development of the legislation which will require every school to consult with parents and students, and publish and operate a Student and Parent Charter.