INTO task force seeks meeting with minister on small schools

Donegal teachers have contributed to an Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) task force report that seeks to protect two-, three- and four-teacher schools from cuts that will hit small rural schools particularly hard.

Donegal teachers have contributed to an Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) task force report that seeks to protect two-, three- and four-teacher schools from cuts that will hit small rural schools particularly hard.

Michael Weed, a teacher at Meenagowan National School in Lettermacaward, and a member of the INTO Central Executive Committee for Donegal and Leitrim said the task force recommendations look to protect Gaeltacht, minority-faith and other smaller schools.

“We’re not looking for a total reversal of schedules, but we’re saying staffing schedules should not be the only criteria by which a school loses a teacher,” said Mr. Weed, who also served on the task force.

He said the INTO will contact the Department of Education and Skills to seek a meeting with Minister Ruairi Quinn, TD, to discuss the recommendations.

The task force presented their 10 recommendations to 700 delegates at a special INTO Congress on Saturday, June 23rd, in the Aviva in Dublin. The task force has been meeting on the matter since Easter.

The report comes in response to government proposals to increase the number of pupils a national school must enrol to maintain current staffing levels. The INTO recommendations seek to prevent changes in the staffing schedule being implemented in schools with three or four teachers.

In addition, the INTO believes that a minimum enrolment should not on its own determine whether a school appoints or retains a second teacher. Among the other factors the INTO believe should be considered are: geographical remoteness, distance from other schools of the same ethos, special consideration for schools serving Gaeltacht communities and the fabric of the school building.

Delegates to the special INTO Congress, in discussions that lasted more than three hours, also discussed possible arrangements for incentivised voluntary amalgamations, shared services between smaller schools and the potential engagement with the department in the pursuit of the staffing objectives.

This is an issue affecting small schools across the country, not solely in Donegal. Mr. Weed said one of the delegates was the principal of a four-teacher school in Dublin, indicating that even urban areas are home to small schools.

“There aren’t many, but there are some,” he said. Still, the task force member said Donegal is particularly hard hit.

“We’re not putting it out as PR or propaganda,” Mr. Weed said. “Donegal is going to be badly hit.” The enrolment proposals increase each year for three years, so the impact on small schools will continue to be felt.

“Any time a family leaves or emigrates from a small school or rural community. The numbers will drop again,” he said.