Primary principals reveal plan for small rural schools

Organisation says proposals will guarantee that existing school buildings remain open

The organisation representing primary school principals has drawn up a plan aimed at tackling the large number of small schools in rural Ireland.

The proposals would see schools pooling resources and cooperating on management and teaching functions, but stop short of full mergers.

The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) says the plan will guarantee that existing school buildings remain open, noting that "local communities are very attached to their small schools and are convinced of their value, both academically and socially".

The plan will also put vulnerable schools on a more sustainable footing, and allow for greater sharing of professional expertise, the organisation says, in a draft position paper.


The document has been produced as part of a consultation process with the Department of Education and Skills aimed at creating a new protocol for managing small schools.

Earlier this year, the Government announced it was rejecting the recommendations of a long-awaited value for money report into small schools.

This called for all one- or two-teacher schools located within 2km of a similar school to be closed or amalgamated by the end of the 2014/15 school year, and for others located up to 8km apart to be reorganised through amalgamation or federation.

It is understood that political considerations weighed heavily on the decision.

Documents obtained by The Irish Times showed that 32 of 200 small schools earmarked for amalgamation under the plan were in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Mayo constituency.

The IPPN says: “There is no empirical evidence to prove that pupils fare either better or worse academically in small schools. There are, however, social implications for children in the very smallest schools.

“Health and safety as well as child protection considerations need also to be examined.

"There are few other countries in the world, and certainly none in Europe, with as high a proportion of small schools."

‘Three levels of engagement’

The IPPN proposes “three levels of engagement” between small schools: cooperative leadership, clustered leadership and federated leadership.

Cooperative leadership would involve schools sharing some teaching resources, administrative and caretaking functions, while retaining complete independence.

Clustered Leadership would involve the sharing of functions such as management, procurement and curriculum planning, while each school would still retain its own principal and board of management.

However, there would be at least one joint meeting of boards a year, along with shared staff meetings.

Federated leadership would mean one principal and one board of management across multiple campuses, but “parents and children retain their school building in their own local community”.

The IPPN says one of the advantages of this federation model over traditional amalgamation is that there would be no additional accommodation or school transport required in most cases.

In addition, “federation offers a structure that allows the principal to engage more fully in leading learning as well as facilitating staff mobility.”

Lower threshold

In rejecting the report last February, the department lowered the threshold for the appointment of a third teacher from 56 pupils to 53, and a second teacher from 20 to 19 from September 2015.

It also said it would write to patrons of all one-teacher schools located within 8km of another school of similar patronage to “invite them to reflect on their future sustainability” and to offer department supports “if they decide to amalgamate”.

The department said it had not written to any school yet, as it was developing the amalgamation protocol with the education partners.

However, it said it had identified 12 one-teacher schools it planned to write to in the first instance, four of them in Co Mayo, two each in Co Clare, Co Cork and Co Kerry and one each in Co Galway and Co Roscommon.

Some 43 per cent of the State’s 3,200 primary schools have fewer than 100 pupils, and about 95 per cent of them are under Catholic patronage.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column