Audit to assess best use of school resources

Thu, Apr 12, 2012, 01:00

THE DEPARTMENT of Education is to begin an audit to ensure the best use of all the school resources in the State.

The move will heighten concerns among small schools about their future. There will also be unease that the audit could force some larger schools to amalgamate to create new-style education campuses.

The department was anxious to play down such fears yesterday, stressing that the audit was essentially a fact-finding exercise.

Ireland has close to 4,000 schools and Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said yesterday this number, with a population of just four million, was very high by international standards.

The department will seek tenders for the audit shortly.

Mr Quinn said: “We will take a number of traditional, regular, normal, provincial towns and do an inventory of what we actually have in that town.

“In many cases, the Department of Education has not got on a single sheet of paper what the educational infrastructural resources are of town A, B or C.

“No rational planner, no business organisation would contemplate making changes unless it knew what the actual physical resources and manpower resources were in that situation,” he told RTÉ radio.

“We have to undertake that kind of audit to see how best we can make the greatest possible productive use of the resources that we currently have.”

On small schools, Mr Quinn reacted strongly to criticism from Senator Fidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael), who accused him of engaging in social engineering. She said he was intent on undermining the fabric of rural communities by targeting small schools for rationalisation and she said he might be better off targeting the €100 million State subsidy paid to private fee-paying schools annually.

When she talked to her colleagues in the Fine Gael parliamentary party, they would be able to apprise her as to how she was misinformed, the Minister said.

Mr Quinn said many small schools were built at a time when pupils walked to school but now the “face of Ireland had changed” and the education system needed to reflect that. The arrival of traffic, whether it be heavy-duty agricultural traffic or domestic cars, made it “virtually impossible, certainly not safe, for young children to walk to school”.

He said the policy was to increase the number of pupils required for an extra teacher. Mr Quinn is awaiting the publication of a value-for-money report on small schools, and a discussion on how best to proceed will follow.

Small school: What’s going on?

THERE ARE 659 schools with 50 pupils or less; these have an average of 2.4 teachers and an average pupil/teacher ratio of 13:1. If these schools were amalgamated with others, 300 teacher posts would be eliminated. A recent report said savings of €18 million per annum could be achieved. There are a further 851 schools with 51-100 pupils. School mergers could yield annual savings of €9 million, according to the report.

Budget 2012 announced changes in how these schools would be staffed over the next three years.

Small schools will have to draw more pupils – or lose teachers. A school that got a third teacher once it had 49 pupils will need 51 next year and 56 in 2015. Some 100 posts will go this year and 250 over three years. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will publish a value-for-money report soon, probably next month.