Sherlock accuses Opposition TDs of ‘upping rhetoric’ over small schools report
Minister of State for Education says no policy decision taken on value-for-money report
Minister of State for Education Seán Sherlock: “It is not right for deputies to up the rhetoric”
Opposition TDs have been accused of “upping the rhetoric” about the value-for money report on small primary schools and potential school amalgamations.
Minister of State for Education Seán Sherlock made the claim as he insisted in the Dáil that “no policy decisions” have been taken on the report’s findings or recommendations.
But he said it was “eminently reasonable and sensible” in the case of rural schools with only a small number of pupils to “proceed with amalgamations when they can be achieved through a process of consensus”.
Budget targets included saving 250 posts over three years.
He said decisions on school provision had to be based on requirements and needs “not just at local level but also at both regional and national levels”.
He was responding as Opposition TDs highlighted recent leaks to the media from the report and expressed fears that implementation of the recommendations could have a detrimental effect on the existence of small primary schools in rural Ireland.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the report’s findings and recommendations “need to be used to support small rural schools and not as a rationale for closing them”.
Highlighting reports that the document was likely to opt for 80 pupils as the minimum for a school to operate, the Donegal North-East TD pointed out that “almost one-third of our primary schools – 1,000 – are in the category with an enrolment of fewer than 80 pupils”.
He called for Government assurance of continued support and not “an underhand agenda to close them”.
Independent Kerry-South TD Tom Fleming said “there are fears in many rural communities that they will be faced with the abandonment and closure of their local schools”.
He added that these communities took great pride in their local schools. “The teachers, parents, pupils and the wider community are involved in fund-raising, maintenance, and sometimes security.”
But Mr Sherlock said “it is not right for deputies to up the rhetoric on this issue when a final decision has not yet been made”. He said Fianna Fáil instigated the value-for-money review. Calling for honesty in how the issue was approached, the Minister of State said it was appropriate to have such a report on schools. He insisted “it is not proposed to compromise the ethos that exists in rural communities”.