Leitrim school must enrol four more pupils or it will lose teacher

St Joseph’s National School in Aughavas faces September 30th deadline

The school has 47 pupils enrolled but needs at least 51 to maintain three teachers.

The school has 47 pupils enrolled but needs at least 51 to maintain three teachers.

 

A rural community in Co Leitrim, which lost its post office last month, has just weeks to find four pupils to safeguard the future of its primary school.

Seamus Tiernan, principal of St Joseph’s National School in Aughavas, said the school is facing a September 30th deadline to enrol four more children or it will lose its third teacher.

The school has 47 pupils enrolled but needs at least 51 to maintain three teachers. A minimum cohort of 54 pupils is needed before the third teacher can be reappointed, if one goes this year.

The community attracted five new families to the parish following its successful “Aughavas Community Calling” Facebook appeal earlier this year. However most of the new families have children who have not yet reached school-going age. “Ironically we usually have about 10 children under school-going age in the catchment area, but the figure is closer to 20 now,” the principal said.

A new Facebook campaign has been launched appealing for four children “before it is too late”.

Mary Brennan, chairwoman of Aughavas Community Calling, said if the school lost its third teacher it would become vulnerable as some parents in the catchment area might think twice about enrolling their children in a two-teacher school.

With most children nationwide already enrolled for this academic year, Ms Brennan admitted the chances of saving the third teacher were not good but stressed: “We won’t give [up] until September 30th”.

Planning rules

Mr Tiernan said the Government needed to rethink its policies on afforestation and planning for one-off housing, or more rural communities would struggle to survive. “We are not looking for handouts. We are looking for a level playing field,” he said.

Rural communities in Co Leitrim are being impacted by State policy in the areas of afforestation, and also by stringent planning rules governing effluent discharge from septic tanks in one-off houses, he said.

Aughavas made national headlines in 2010 when actor Amy Huberman married former Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll in the local church.

Mr Tiernan said there were vacant houses in the parish which could be renovated but some were gradually becoming surrounded by forestry, making them unattractive to potential buyers.

“If a farm goes up for sale after a death, there are tax incentives for anyone wanting to plant the land but no incentive to anyone interested in doing up the house and living there,” he said.

The principal said that after 22 years in the school, he was aware of many past pupils who would love to return with their families but policies were making this difficult.