The Department of Education has been accused of not tackling "shocking" management failures at an Educate Together school that has seen enrolments fall by more than two-thirds over the past decade.
A highly critical school evaluation report in 2009 found the principal of Ennis Educate Together national school in Co Clare had experienced significant difficulties in carrying out his leadership role.
It also said the quality of whole-school planning was poor, curriculum planning required immediate attention and there was insufficient emphasis on teaching and learning as the central focus of the school.
Teachers at the school, however, were praised for their professionalism and dedication.
In the Seanad last week, Senator Paul Gavan of Sinn Féin said it took a further seven years before a further whole-school evaluation report confirmed that "no action had been taken to rectify these issues, recording the management of the school as ineffective and unsatisfactory".
“A follow-up inspection report last year again highlighted the need for significant development and improvement with regard to the principal. By June of this year pupil enrolment was down to 63 students, a drop of two-thirds,” he said. “The record shows that the Department of Education sat with folded hands throughout these years of failure.”
The school’s former deputy principal – who stood down in 2012 – made a protected disclosure to the department in 2015.
“To this day the whistleblower does not know why the department failed to take any action,” Senator Gavan said. “Why was the principal allowed to continue in his post without any intervention by stakeholders, the board of management, school inspectors and the department despite their knowledge of the desperate state of affairs at the school?”
Mr Gavan said the protected disclosure raised questions over a range of issues, including financial administration and a stolen blank cheque, subsequently cashed for €10,000.
In response Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the department treated all protected disclosures seriously and followed up on all the issues raised.
Mr McHugh said a whole-school evaluation carried out in 2016 identified a number of issues concerning the general governance, management and leadership of the school.
“My department had been aware of the unsatisfactory performance of this school from ongoing inspection reports and had been working with the school to improve its overall performance for the benefit of the teaching and learning experience in the school.”
He said a new board of management was established in July 2016, while a school action plan was drawn up later in the same year.
A follow-through inspection report found that good progress had been made in a number of areas with a few aspects for improvement remaining.
He said a new school principal was appointed in July 2018 and this appointment was “crucial in terms of improving the leadership role within the school”.
Mr McHugh said his department wrote to the discloser last August to advise of the positive changes and expressed thanks for their concern and for raising important issues in respect of the school.
“I want to express publicly my own similar sentiments in being grateful and thankful to the discloser,” Mr McHugh said.
In a statement, Educate Together, the patron body, said it has been aware of issues at Ennis Educate Together for some time and had moved to appoint a new board and school principal.
“Educate Together is actively working with the Department of Education to identify suitable permanent accommodation for the school. Educate Together is confident that Ennis Educate Together NS will continue to thrive under its new management.”