Small school merger plan would have hit Galway-Mayo hardest

Taoiseach’s opposition key to rejection by Government of report’s recommendations

Documents  show 32 small primary schools in Co Mayo – all of them of Catholic patronage – have been identified for possible amalgamation to reduce costs and support educational goals. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Documents show 32 small primary schools in Co Mayo – all of them of Catholic patronage – have been identified for possible amalgamation to reduce costs and support educational goals. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

One in six small schools which were earmarked for merger under a value-for-money review that was scrapped by the Government earlier this year are in the Taoiseach’s constituency.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 32 small primary schools in Co Mayo – all of them of Catholic patronage – have been identified for possible amalgamation to reduce costs and support educational goals.

Enda Kenny’s home county is facing the greatest upheaval after neighbouring Co Galway, where 43 small schools have been earmarked for merger.

Twenty-two schools are identified for possible amalgamation in Cork, 18 in Clare, 17 in Roscommon, 14 in Donegal and 13 in Tipperary.

Two hundred primary schools, designated as either one- or two-teacher schools, are included on the list drawn up by the Department of Education and Skills.All were so chosen because they were within an 8km radius of another school which likewise had fewer than three teachers.

Schools identified for amalgamation: Small primary schools within an eight km radius of each other

Schools mapped here are as per data provided by the Department of Education. In some cases one school is mapped while a second is not. This is because the second school has been closed or amalgamated (as noted) or because the department did not list a separate entry for the second school.

The value-for-money report observes: “There is no evidence that small schools provide any greater educational benefits for their pupils which would offset their greater costs.”

Ireland has a far higher concentration of small schools than the European average. A number of leading educationalists, including Prof John Coolahan, have warned of the risk of uneven and unpredictable quality.

However, the closure or amalgamation of small schools is an emotive issue in rural Ireland and Kenny’s personal opposition to this is understood to have been key to the Government’s rejection of the recommendations of the value-for-money report.

One of the schools on the list is Carrakennedy National School, where Mr Kenny used to teach.

With 35 pupils enrolled in 2014-15, it is located 5.4km from another small school south of Westport.

St Joseph’s NS in Mr Kenny’s home parish of Islandeady was on a separate list of 329 one- and two-teacher schools facing possible merger with larger schools in the vicinity.

St Joseph’s is located 4.3km from a three-teacher school south of Castlebar.

The documents also show that department officials feared the plan would come undone because of competition between schools over resources.