Written answers

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Department of Education and Science

Small School Closures

12:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 46: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if it is his intention to conduct a review into the viability of small rural schools. [44148/09]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 50: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will confirm that there will be no closures of small rural schools with fewer than 100 pupils. [44147/09]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 50 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Special Group on Public Services and Expenditure was established to examine current expenditure programmes in each Government Department and to make recommendations to Government for ensuring a return to sustainable public finances.

The report outlined that of the 3,200 primary schools in the State, approximately 47% had five teachers or fewer. The report also identified significant cost savings that could be achieved by reducing the overall number of schools through amalgamations and mergers.

The proposals in the report are being considered in the context of the current financial climate. Decisions on all of the issues arising will be a matter for the Government. While I will have to await the outcome of these deliberative processes, I can confirm that there are no plans to undertake an immediate large-scale programme of small school closures at this time. The exception to this is small schools where the question of closure would arise in the normal course under the current sustainability limits. These will continue to be dealt with in the same way and such schools may be closed if the numbers reduce over time to an unsustainable level.

However, I am of the view that my Department will have to examine the implementation of more strict guidelines in relation to the number of pupils required for both the commencement and the sustainability of schools.

It is within this context that my Department will be examining discreet groups or clusters of small schools and perhaps some individual small schools to see how we might achieve more value for money and a more efficient use of the resources that are currently allocated to these schools.

However, in considering any policy changes relating to small schools, my Department is conscious that there is a wider dimension in addition to the cost of maintaining small schools to be considered. Among the issues that will need to be taken into account are the impact of school closures on dispersed rural communities, parental choice, the availability of diversity of school provision and the additional cost of school transport.

All Patron bodies and the Education Partners will be consulted as part of any initiative undertaken by my Department in the future.


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