Breen highlights plight of Clare’s Rural Schools

September 30th, 2013 - Pat Breen

Clare Deputy and Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Pat Breen T.D., highlighted the plight facing many of Clare’s Rural Schools when he spoke in Dail Eireann last week during the Private Members debate on Education.

Honouring the pledge that he gave to teachers and parents at a recent Public Meeting in Ennis to raise their concerns in Dail Eireann he warned that “Families should not be penalised for living in rural Ireland” and that education in these areas should not be determined “solely by numbers”.

Paying tribute to the Education Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D. and his Minister of State Ciaran Cannon T.D. Deputy Breen said that while they had inherited an education system in need of reform in economically difficult times they have still managed to bring forward a package of reforms including an investment of €2 billion to ensure that school buildings are fit for purposed. “As we move forward”, he said, “It will be important that we continue to invest in schools and to ensure that children have access to a good education whether in rural or urban areas”.

Highlighting the challengers faces Moyasta National School he said that the “rigid pupil threshold for the allocation of additional teachers” is too rigid and the situation at Moyasta is typical of the problems facing rural schools throughout the County. He told the Dail that he has visited the School last week and that what he saw was not an ideal environment in which to deliver education, even though, he added that “the teachers and staff are working above and beyond to ensure that the children do not lose out”.

Describing the situation he pointed out that Moyasta National School is a two-teacher 54 pupil school, where four different programmes are delivered to four different classes in each of the two rooms. For the past three years, he told the Dail, the School has fallen short of the ever increasing pupil-teacher ratio for small schools. He said that while the school’s enrolment figures for next year are very positive in that it expects to have 57 pupils, in order to match the Departments criteria they are obliged to adhere to is too restrictive and does not take account of “population dynamics which fluctuate from time to time, particularly in rural Ireland”.

Finally, on the issue of pupil teacher ratio’s he urged the Minister “not to seek to increase that ratio in the forthcoming budget”.

ENDS

Copy of transcript attached for your attention.

Private Members Motion on Education
Dail Eireann
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Deputy Pat Breen: Last Thursday evening in Ennis, I attended a public meeting on primary education. I gave the parents there a commitment to raise some of the issues that affect rural schools. Two years ago, the situation was very different. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, inherited an education system that was in real need of reform, given the difficult economic times. In spite of this, the Minister has managed to bring forward a major package of reforms, including an investment of €2 million to ensure that school buildings are fit for purpose. As we move forward, it will be important to continue to invest in schools and to ensure that children have access to a good education whether in rural or urban areas.
Deputy Pat Breen: ] Last week, I visited Moyasta national school in west Clare, which is a 54 pupil, two-teacher school which accommodates four classes in two rooms. In one room, there are 34 students made up of nine junior infants, seven senior infants, 12 first class pupils and six second class pupils. Two of the children in this class have special needs. The second room comprises third, fourth, fifth and sixth class pupils, three of whom have special needs. I saw first-hand on that occasion the situation which the teachers have to endure. I am sure there are other schools throughout the country in a similar situation. How can we expect one teacher to deliver four different programmes to four different classes in one room? Overcrowding and a lack of space is a huge issue and the resources and skills of teachers are being stretched to the limit. What I saw was not an ideal environment in which to deliver education. The teachers and staff working in that school are working above and beyond to ensure that the children do not lose out.
The rigid pupil threshold for the allocation of an additional teacher is posing a huge problem for Moyasta national school and other schools as they strive to expand. For the past three years, Moyasta national school has fallen short of the ever increasing pupil-teacher ratio for small schools. The school’s enrolment projections for next year are very positive in that it expects to have 57 pupils. However, in order to meet the criteria for an additional teacher, the school is obliged to give a year’s notice to the Department, which very much limits its case. This process is too restrictive and needs to be more flexible. I have previously raised this with the Minister and intend to raise it with him again. Account must be taken of population dynamics which fluctuate from time to time, particularly in rural Ireland. Education in rural areas should not be determined solely by numbers. Families should not be penalised for living in rural Ireland. Education should be determined by the role that the school plays in maintaining and shaping our rural communities. This is extremely important.
On the issue of pupil-teacher ratios, I hope the Minister will not seek to increase that ratio in the forthcoming budget. It is an issue of real concern for pupils and teachers.