Schools to 'reflect' changed State


The Department of Education is to begin an audit of all school resources in the State to ensure the best use of resources in a move that will heighten concerns among small schools about their future.

There will also be unease that the audit could force some larger schools to amalgamate to create new-style education campuses.

The department was anxious to pay down such fears today, stressing the new audit is essentially a fact-finding exercise. The department will seek tenders for the audit shortly.

Ireland has close to 4,000 schools. On RTÉ radio today, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said this number of schools to service a population of just four million was very high by international standards.

Mr Quinn said: "We will take a number of traditional, regular, normal, provincial towns and do an inventory of what we actually have in that town. In many cases, the Department of Education has not got on a single sheet of paper what the educational infrastructural resources are of town A, B or C.

"No rational planner, no business organisation, would contemplate making changes unless it knew what the actual physical resources and manpower resources were in that situation. We have to undertake that kind of audit to see how best we can make the greatest possible productive use of the resources that we currently have."

On small schools, Mr Quinn reacted strongly to criticism from Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who accused him of engaging in social engineering. When she talked to her colleagues in the Fine Gael parliamentary party they would be able to apprise her as to how she was misinformed, he said.

The Minister said many small schools were built at a time when pupils walked to school but now the “face of Ireland had changed” and the education system needs to reflect that change. The arrival of traffic, whether it be heavy duty agricultural traffic or domestic cars makes it virtually impossible, certainly not safe for young children to walk to school.”

He said the policy was to increase the number of pupils required for an extra teacher.

“Schools will not close because they lose a teacher, schools close - and I haven’t closed any schools and don’t intend to close any schools - schools only closed in the past when they’ve lost pupils not teachers.”

Mr Quinn is awaiting the publication of a value-for-money report on small schools and a discussion on how best to proceed will follow.

“At the end of the day the education system will be delivered, albeit perhaps in a different context,” he told RTÉ.

Mr Quinn is addressing delegates at the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) conference in Wexford today.

Yesterday, delegates called on the TUI to lobby for legislative change to protect teachers and the general study body from disruptive students after hearing how one pregnant teacher had a chair dropped on her by a violent pupil.

They also strongly condemned any attempt by the Government to criminalise any teacher who fails to co-operate with departmental inspections as is proposed in the Education and Training Boards Bill.