Future of Achill school in doubt as parents withdraw their children

Parents ‘devastated’ about situation but decline to publicly divulge their reasons

Bullsmouth NS is under the patronage of Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Bullsmouth NS is under the patronage of Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The future of a primary school in the Mayo Gaeltacht, where all 16 pupils have now been withdrawn by parents for unspecified reasons, is in doubt if a solution cannot be found to the impasse.

When two-teacher Bullsmouth NS on Achill Island opened for the 2018-2019 school term on Monday, there was only one pupil present. However, it is understood that the lone student did not turn up either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Parents say they are “dissatisfied” with the school over “a number of issues”, which they do not publicly wish to elaborate on.

Bullsmouth NS is under the patronage of Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary. Msgr John O’Boyle of the diocese’s education office, who is a representative of Dr Neary, said he did not know what the issues at play were.

“I presume that was the decision of the parents themselves to do that,” he said. “There was just one pupil left when it opened there last Monday. I understand that pupil has now gone to another school as well.

“They haven’t communicated those issues to me. It’s the board of management that would actually be dealing with that. I don’t know [what the issues are] and I don’t want to speculate because I haven’t met the parents.”

Asked whether the school would be closed, Msgr O’Boyle said: “That has to be decided with the Department of Education. It’s only now that we’re aware that there are no pupils, but I presume if there are no pupils then the school will be closed.”

Consent of parents

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the school would not be closed without the consent of parents.

“The department is in ongoing contact with the school authorities and the school patron in relation to the issues arising,” she said.

“The Government in its programme for government has committed to protect the sustainability and viability of rural communities and will not close any small school without the consent of parents.”

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said all the pupils had been enrolled in other island schools – the Valley, Bunnacurry, Tonragee and Achill Sound – in recent weeks.

If parents decide to withdraw students from a school, there’s nothing the INTO can do

“We are devastated at what is happening but we feel we have no alternative,” the parents’ spokeswoman said. “The older generations especially are saddened, because if the school closes the heart will be ripped out of the community.”

In common with other primary schools on Achill, the enrolment numbers at Bullsmouth have been dropping over the past decade. In 2007 there were 32 students at the facility.

Speaking English

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) is aware of the impasse but insists its hands are tied in the dispute.

“If parents decide to withdraw students from a school, there’s nothing the INTO can do,” Vincent Duffy of the INTO’s central executive committee (Mayo-Sligo) said.

Last year the findings of a Department of Education evaluation of Bullsmouth NS were published.

Inspectors noted and were critical of the fact that, although Bullsmouth is a “Gaeltacht school”, all pupils speak English as their first language.

The school was the subject of a critical Department of Education Whole School Evaluation inspection report last year.

For the time being, the school principal and her assistant are turning up daily to empty classrooms.

If there is no prospect of a resolution to the impasse, the school faces closure, with the principal and second teacher facing redeployment on the diocesan teaching panel.