Rural schools face uncertain future

Almost a dozen of County Longford’s smallest rural schools could be set to close as the Government looks to cut millions of euro off its education budget.

Almost a dozen of County Longford’s smallest rural schools could be set to close as the Government looks to cut millions of euro off its education budget.

New figures obtained by the Leader show as many as nine locally based facilities currently form part of the department’s comprehensive ‘value for money’ review of two teacher schools up and down the country.

These include schools at Forgney, Tashinny, Edgeworthstown, Coolarty, Cloontagh, Ballycloghan, Killashee, Clondra, Dring and Longford town with around 80 further schools in counties Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan and Westmeath also up for decision. Closer inspection of the figures show a total of three schools in the relatively modest Cavan town of Arva could be in line for closure or amalgamation with 41 establishments included under Co Roscommon’s listings.

Over 580 two teacher schools are currently up for reassessment under the wide ranging cost cutting measures with some having less than 20 pupils on its books.

But it is the revelation department officials plan on evaluating up to nine two teacher schools throughout the county which is causing particular concern among parents and teachers alike.

Included in the extensive review list is St Ernan’s NS in Killashee. Its principal, Martina Chapman defended the school’s performance both from an education and financial footing, hinting any potential closure could impact negatively on the south Longford village’s social fabric.

“Small schools do offer good value and they offer a choice to parents. The school we are in was originally built in 1958 and a number of our children’s parents would have gone there. I think a lot of people appreciate the small schools, children get a good education and it is an important part of a community,” she said.

One of the reasons behind the decision to carry out a review follows the publication of the 2009 An Bord Snip Nua Report. Under the proposals drawn up by UCD economist Colm McCarthy, the group found cost savings of up to €18m could be made by merging over 650 schools with fewer than 50 pupils.

Economists are also believed to be looking at the €30,000 annual grant many two teacher schools rely upon to cover their day to day costs, bringing the bill to around €20m.

Fr Peter Brady, chairperson of Ballycloghan NS’ board of management, said the department faced a series of difficult decisions over the next number of months.

“Change is to some extent necessary but you can’t really put an expense on education. If most of the small schools are functioning well it’s an investment we can’t just throw aside,” he said.

Fr Brady said he had been in contact with the department about the review and was confident the school’s future was secure up until at least September. “We are okay currently. There is no timeframe on it (review),” he said.

The Department of Education, in response, said there were no plans to carry out large-scale school closures for the time being. The review, it said, should be completed by the end of the year when further details on what changes, if any, will be announced.