Report says island schools need extra support to survive
There are 12 island primary schools and five secondary schools in the State
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: “The retention of vibrant school communities with appropriate resources is essential to maintaining the overall sustainability of our offshore islands”
Island schools are struggling to provide students with minimum required teaching time or access to key second-level subjects. That is the warning in a report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education on the challenges facing island schools.
There are currently 12 island primary schools and five secondary schools in the State. The report says additional supports and resources are needed to ensure their continued viability, and to help maintain the social fabric of island communities.
It lists a total of eight recommendations which it says would improve the sustainability of these schools. They include the reinstatement of allowances for teachers in island schools to recognise the additional pressures and constraints of the role.
It also recommends doubling the number of scholarships from 30 to 60 for students from the mainland, and extending Deis – or disadvantaged status – to the five secondary schools.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, the report’s rapporteur, said these measures were not expensive in the context of the overall budget.
“The retention of vibrant school communities with appropriate resources is essential to maintaining the overall sustainability of our offshore islands. These islands are a very important part of our rich heritage and culture, and are rightly promoted as an important asset for us as a nation.
“Some [of the proposed measures] are merely minor changes to policy which are small in the overall scheme of things but would ensure major improvements in the sustainability of these schools.”
Other proposed measures include revising the formula for teacher allocation on island schools to reflect their unique needs.
The report notes that enrolment figures for offshore island schools are limited due to their location. However, it says this should not put the school at a disadvantage in terms of sufficient teaching posts across all appropriate subjects.
It notes that the budget in 2017 introduced improved allocation policies for island and small primary schools, such as an additional teacher for one-teacher island schools where a primary school was the only school on the island.
However, it says a range of other challenges are still faced by island schools which are not sufficiently addressed by this measure alone.
The designation of small school status is important for many island schools as it entitles them to certain benefits, including a more favourable teaching allocation, the report notes. However, some of Ireland’s smallest post-primary schools are yet to be granted this status despite their low enrolment figures.
The additional challenges of island life mean that accessing and retaining suitability qualified and experienced teaching staff proves difficult for many island schools.
The report says the removal of allowances for island school staff and for Gaeltacht school staff in 2012 meant that the additional challenges faced by teachers on islands, or in Gaeltacht schools, are no longer recognised by the department.