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Written Answers - Schools Amalgamation

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 752 No. 2

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 89.  Deputy Michael McCarthy Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if his attention has been drawn to the extra costs involved in the amalgamation of small schools in the form of extra classrooms and school transport arrangements to accommodate new pupils; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3062/12]

 94.  Deputy Michael McCarthy Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if any provisions will be made for small schools who can prove that amalgamation will result in students having to travel unreasonable distances; the distance he considers to be a reasonable for a pupil to travel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3148/12]

 107.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  the extent to which he or his Department has received communication from the relevant management authorities at local level in regard to any rationalisation in respect of smaller rural schools; if he will have regard for the local community needs and traditions with a view to meeting community requirements to the maximum extent possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3312/12]

 108. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if he will have regard for the necessity to recognise the danger of rural isolation and urban disadvantage in any reconfiguration of the network of school throughout the country arising from the budgetary [326]situation and put in place amelioration measures as required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3313/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 89, 94, 107 and 108 together.

It is worth noting that we have 3,200 primary schools across Ireland. Over two thirds of those schools have more than 86 pupils and, as a result, have far higher average class sizes than all of the schools affected by this measure. For example a two teacher school with 32 pupils has an average class size of 1 teacher for 16 pupils. In contrast, a typical ten teacher school with 272 pupils has an average class size of 27.2 pupils.

For that reason, as part of the Budget 2012 decisions, the number of pupils required to gain and retain a classroom teaching post in small primary schools will be gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014. Even when all of these phased increases are implemented, the threshold for small schools will still be significantly lower than the minimum of 28 pupils that were required for the appointment of the second teacher in schools prior to the mid 1990’s.

This budget measure must be seen in the context of the major challenges we have as a Government in trying to protect public services to the greatest extent that we can in these exceptional times.

The phasing of these measures can provide the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible and only where communities chose to do so.

If amalgamations take place, they will be voluntary and follow decisions taken by local communities and not by my Department. The initiative for an amalgamation may come from a variety of sources, such as parents, staff, Board of Management and in particular, the Patron. The decision making authority for any amalgamation belongs to the Patron of a school, subject to the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills. The numbers of pupils in these schools is relatively small so it is not necessarily the case that capital investment would be needed to support amalgamation. Each case will have to be assessed on an individual basis to determine the extent and type of accommodation required taking into account the condition of buildings, site capacity etc. My Department would discuss the issues arising with the boards of management of the schools and would aim to provide an appropriate accommodation solution subject to available resources. When a community makes a decision to amalgamate, clearly travel distances will be an important factor and the judgement on this will be made locally in light of local circumstances. Under the terms of my Department’s Primary School Transport Scheme children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 3.2 kms from and are attending their nearest national school as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.


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