Fears for future of many small schools
THERE IS no significant relationship between school size and the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in schools, according to a new Department of Education report.
But the publication of the report – as teachers gather for annual trade union conferences – will deepen concerns about the future of several hundred small schools.
Last night Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said the report was not an attack on small schools but rather a valuable tool in the debate on such schools.
“I recognise that small schools are an important part of the social fabric of rural communities,” he said, “and they will continue to be a major feature of our education landscape”.
“However, at a time of great strain in our public finances we have to ensure that the very valuable but limited resources available to the education system are used in the best way possible.”
The department says the new report from its inspectorate will form part of the small primary schools value-for-money review,currently being finalised.
The INTO conference, which began last night, heard delegates express concern about the possible targeting of several hundred small schools.
There are 659 primary schools with fewer than 50 pupils in the State.
The report shows that while there are, in some cases, differences between small schools and larger schools, in respect of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, these differences are not directly associated with the size of the school.
The report draws on information gathered through inspections and surveys of parents and pupils.
The data from whole-school evaluations show the quality of English lessons is marginally better in larger schools, while there is little difference between the quality of mathematics lessons.
The report also found that parents of pupils in larger schools hold slightly more positive views on the quality of teaching than parents in smaller schools.
INTO president Noreen Flynn called for the publication of the value for money report last night.
She said budget cuts had caused fear and anxiety in rural, Gaeltacht and island communities where many saw the move to increase class sizes in small schools as an attack on the existence of those communities which have already seen Garda stations, post offices and health services closed. She said there were similar fears among minority faith communities.
Following the budget the Minister allowed an appeal process for schools affected by the changes. Ms Flynn said this was welcome but warned that the matter is far from resolved. She said the provision of sustainable schools was a complex matter and many issues need to be considered before embarking on a policy that could see schools close.
Ms Flynn demanded the establishment of a forum where all parties can examine the findings of the departments’s review and develop a coherent, long-term, resourced strategy for sustainable schools into the future.