17 February, 2015 – Minister O’Sullivan outlines new policy to support sustainable school communities
17th February 2015 | News
The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD, has today announced that Government has agreed the implementation of two new policies to better support the sustainability of small schools, and particularly those in isolated areas.
This policy approach involves two key elements:
· Improved changes to the staffing schedule for some small schools and
· A voluntary protocol for future sustainability for 1 teacher schools with reducing enrolments
The full details of these elements are outlined in the “Notes to Editors” section below.
The Government has also agreed the publication of the Value for Money and policy review of small schools, which was commissioned by former TÃ¡naiste and Minister Mary Coughlan in 2010. That report will be published later this week, after it has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Minister O’Sullivan has confirmed that the recommendations of that report have not been accepted.
Commenting on this new policy approach, Minister O’Sullivan said: “In many parts of our country, small schools play a central part of local communities. As someone who attended a small school myself, I am particularly conscious of the importance of this social infrastructure to rural communities, and particularly the most isolated communities”.
The Minister is also committed to preserving parental choice and recognises the need to sustain local communities, particularly dispersed and remote communities, who have close affinity to, and identity with, their local schools.
“The two new policies being proposed today will provide some improvement to the staffing levels of some of our smallest schools. These improvements particularly recognise the challenges faced by very small schools that are more than 8km from the next nearest school of the same type of patronage and language of instruction”
“We are developing a voluntary amalgamation protocol for the very smallest schools with reducing enrolments with representatives of teachers and school managers. If any school which is within 8km of the next nearest school of the same type of patronage and language of instruction sees their pupil enrolment drop below 25, there will now be a series of voluntary local conversations about whether amalgamation of local schools would create more sustainable school communities into the future. I will provide capital funding to support such amalgamations from within the overall education budget, if extensions or other work to schools are required. No small school will close under this amalgamation policy unless the patron and community choose so.”
“This package of measures will provide rural communities with security about the future of their small schools, recognising the essential social function which small schools can play, especially in isolated communities.”
Minister O’Sullivan also confirmed that the Value for Money and policy review of small schools will be published later this week: “This report provides a solid research basis for future discussions regarding small schools. However, the Government will not be proceeding with the recommendations of that report. The policy changes I have announced today will be the only significant changes to small schools which will be considered by this Government”.
Notes to editors:
In relation to the staffing schedule, the Minister intends to change the staffing schedule for some small schools as follows:
a. Improved teacher retention thresholds (a retention threshold is the number of pupils required to retain the existing classroom teachers in a school) to be introduced commencing in the 2015/16 school year as follows:
i. a 2nd teacher – a threshold of 19 pupils rather than 20 as it is currently
ii. a 3rd teacher – a threshold of 53 pupils rather than 56 as it is currently
iii. a 4th teacher – a threshold of 83 pupils rather than 86 as it is currently.
b. new teacher allocation thresholds for isolated one-teacher schools – the threshold for appointment and retention of a second teacher in schools more than 8km from the next nearest school of the same type of patronage and language of instruction is being reduced (from 20 pupils to 15 pupils).
The Minister does not intend to change the appointment thresholds in the Staffing Schedule (the appointment threshold is the number of pupils required to gain an additional classroom teacher) other than for isolated one-teacher schools.
Voluntary Protocol for one teacher schools with reducing enrolments
In relation to a voluntary protocol being developed with INTO, CPSMA and the General Synod Board of Education of the Church of Ireland, it is intended that this protocol will contain the following elements:
a. The Department will write to patrons of all 1 teacher schools that are located within an 8km distance of a school of similar patronage and language of instruction. The letter will invite them to reflect on their future sustainability as a one teacher school and engage with the Department of Education on the supports available if they decide to amalgamate. In future, similar letters will issue in the case of any such schools which fall below 25 pupils (and are therefore approaching 1 teacher status)
b. Patrons will lead local community discussions, and when they have considered potential future options, can contact a single coordinating point of contact in the Department.
c. Department will provide clarifications to the patrons on issues such as staffing, school transport, capital implications or grant funding
d. Patrons to use this information to re-engage with communities and identify possible courses of action. Patron retains authority to make final decision and notify Department, which will seek to support decision as quickly as possible.
The Minister will provide funding for any additional capital works needed arising from amalgamations from within her existing budget.