Public Service Reform

Strengthening and Supporting Small Schools


The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh TD wants to support schools in their communities and ensure a sustainable future. The main objective is to hold on to and strengthen our current cohort of primary schools.

Small schools are defined for statistical purposes as schools with 4 mainstream teachers or less. Schools meeting this definition constitute over 44% of all primary schools: around 1,370 individual school buildings, but only 14.5% of all students. The distribution of teacher allocations in small schools for the 2018/2019 school year is shown below:

Number of 1 teacher schools = 24

Number of 2 teacher schools = 539

Number of 3 teacher schools = 375

Number of 4 teacher schools = 432

These schools are mostly rural, although there are urban and suburban small schools.

Issues to be addressed in Sustaining Small Schools

It is generally the case that the issues which are common to all schools provide a greater challenge in small schools, where their impact can be intensified due to the small size of the community being affected. All small schools are led by a Principal who has teaching, as well as leadership, management and administrative, responsibilities.

It is recognised that these schools play a central role in their communities. It is difficult to measure the value that they bring to an area or the impact they have on the community and its sense of identity.  

Small schools are part and parcel of the very fabric of rural life. They are a vital link to local heritage and history. They play a vital role in sustaining rural populations and are often the connecting point for sports and social activity.

There is a commitment contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government not to close any small school without the consent of parents and the Department is working to develop a new policy on strengthening and supporting small schools as a key component of the primary education system.  

Symposium on Strengthening and Supporting Small Schools

In March 2019, Minister McHugh attended the International Symposium on the Teaching Profession in Finland and was very interested to learn about how that country approaches the issue of small schools. This research looked at the relationship between the local rural school and the surrounding community, the small rural primary school as a learning environment, and the teachers’ profession in this context. Officials in the Department also made contact with Scottish colleagues in relation to their approaches to guaranteeing the future of small schools.

It is important to talk about how this can be achieved in this country; about how these small schools can be developed to grow and continue to contribute to their communities for many generations to come.

To help start this discussion, Minister McHugh together with Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring TD held a Symposium on Small Schools in June 2019. The aim was to actively engage with the people and organisations who work in and with small schools and who understand the value and opportunities presented by small schools to their communities.

The issues raised at the Symposium have been brought to the Primary Education Forum, which was established in September 2018 to support the planning and sequencing of change in the primary sector and to address common issues. It will link into a cross-Departmental Working Group tasked with developing the new policy.

Presentations from the Event:

(1)   National Parents Council, Ms Aíne Lynch - Video - Slides

(2)   An Foras Pátrúnachta, Mr Tomás Ó Póil - Video

(3)   Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools, Mr Declan Lawlor - Video - Slides

(4)   Education and Training Boards Ireland, Mr Seamus Conboy - Video - Slides

(5)   The Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education and Formation, Fr Paul Connell - Video 

(6)   National Association of Board of Management in Special Education, Ms Breda Corr - Video

(7)   Church of Ireland Board of Education, Archbishop Michael Jackson - Video - Slides

(8)   Gaeloideachas, Mr John Joe Mac Íomhair - Video 

(9)   Catholic Schools Partnership, Mr Ferdia Kelly - Video 

(10) Irish National Teachers Organisation, Mr John Boyle - Video - Slides

(11) Irish Primary Principals Network, Mr Pairic Clerkin - Video - Slides

(12) Catholic Primary School Management Association, Mr Seamus Mulconry - Video

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