Empty classrooms after last pupil removed from Louth school

Parents cite ongoing issues of leadership and teaching standards at Scoil Náisiúnta Bhrighde

Parents say the Department of Education and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin – who is the school’s patron – have failed to respond to calls for a change in leadership at the school.  Photograph: Getty Images

Parents say the Department of Education and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin – who is the school’s patron – have failed to respond to calls for a change in leadership at the school. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Three teachers, a secretary and a caretaker are working at a primary school with no students after the final pupil attending was removed by parents this week.

There are no longer any students attending Scoil Náisiúnta Bhrighde in Faughart, Co Louth, according to parents, who say the Department of Education and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin – who is the school’s patron – have failed to respond to calls for a change in leadership at the school.

While a small number of students did turn up to the school when it reopened a fortnight ago after the summer, all children have now been removed with the final student leaving this week.

“We don’t want this school to close down,” a member of the parents’ group told The Irish Times. “We want this school for the future children of the parish. What’s very upsetting is the radio silence from the Department of Education and the archbishop. Do they think it’s acceptable to ignore a community’s pleas? They are not putting the children’s welfare first.”

Dozens of families have withdrawn their children from the school in recent years, with enrolment falling by half to just over 50 in recent years. Parents say concerns over the leadership and management of the school have been ongoing for years and that the department was first alerted to problems at the school in 2011.

Critical findings

In May 2017, inspectors from the department reported a series of critical findings over teaching standards, a lack of leadership and poor oversight by the board of management.

A whole-school evaluation in March 2017 also called for “a more robust oversight role by the board of management and improved leadership for learning within the school”. The evaluation called for an improvement in communication with the wider school community and “to involve parents more purposefully in the future development of the school”.

“Before the report was published there were people intending to remove their children because of the day-to-day events that led parents to believe there were gaps in the standard of teaching,” one parent said on Friday. “These inconsistencies and fears were highlighted in the inspection report.”

The parent said that while all children had been settled in other schools, most parents would prefer to keep their children in Scoil Náisiúnta Bhrighde.

A single manager was appointed by the school’s patron body last June after the board of management resigned. The department said it was the “responsibility of the manager, acting on behalf of the school’s patron, to take the steps necessary to address the issues identified in the inspection report”.

No real resolutions

Sinn Féin local councillor Edel Corrigan said the local community had welcomed the new school manager but that there were still frustrations among parents that there had been no real resolutions to the difficulties at the school.

“We had made requests for the Archbishop to meet with the delegation of parents in the hope that the issue would be resolved before the enrolment of this year. Unfortunately there has been no resolution,” said Ms Corrigan.

“This school is a hub of activity for the local community and has been around for generations. Nobody wants to see the school closed.

“This has been ongoing for a lengthy period of time and for it to be allowed to come to this is very sad and disappointing.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Education said it was in “ongoing contact” with the school authorities and patron around the school’s “future viability and deployment of teachers”. It added that a meeting between the department, the school authorities and school patron was scheduled to take place next week.

In a statement, the archdiocese of Armagh said the school patron had repeatedly emphasised the necessity for everyone to operate within agreed procedures if progress was to be made in resolving concerns that had arisen.