I thank the House for the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the necessity for temporary teacher cover in instances where brief drops in pupil enrolment adversely affect educational standards.
I recently received representations regarding a two-teacher school at Knocknagrave, Tydavnet, County Monaghan. A school inspection to determine the number of pupils enrolled at the school was carried out on 30 September 2003. The number of pupils enrolled on that date determined the number of teachers allocated to the school the following September. However, the number of pupils enrolled at Knocknagrave national school at that time dropped below the two-teacher requirement for a period of eight school days. In mid-October 2003, 13 pupils were enrolled at the school, well in excess of that required for the allocation of two teachers the following September. The school principal has indicated that the number of pupils who attending the school in September 2004 would be 18, an indication of the growing number of pupils enrolling at the school.
A number of houses have recently been built in the area and planning permission is currently being sought for five more houses, an indication of a healthy future for that rural community. The board of management appealed the decision to remove one of its two teachers next September and had great faith in the process because they felt they had a good case. However, they were bitterly disappointed to discover the appeals board was sticking rigidly to the number of pupils enrolled on the particular day in 2003 when the number dipped below that required.
Many letters ensued between the Minister, the Department of Education and Science appeals board and the Taoiseach, all of whom stonewalled the school's case. I am requesting that temporary cover be provided in cases such as that which arose at this school. The system should not be so rigid as to reject such appeals. The Department should consider that an additional 18 pupils are now enrolled at the school, bringing the number to that required for a second teacher. If a second permanent teacher cannot be allocated to the school the Department should provide a temporary or substitute teacher for the 12 months involved. Such a post could also provide a student studying for a higher diploma in education with necessary teaching experience. The teaching methods of such teachers are inspected three times a year. That would be a way of dealing with this issue. Removal of a teacher from the school will have devastating consequences.
On top of having to teach eight classes, the principal of the school is required to prepare children for first communion, confirmation and entrance examinations to secondary schools. She has to take care of sick children and may have to take injured children to hospital. She also has to do administrative work, meet parents, organise school trips, encourage sport and attend to the remedial needs of students in the school. It is impossible to expect any teacher to perform all these tasks. The Department of Education and Science is in such cases paying principals to be glorified babysitters, and that is not acceptable. I am sure I have outlined only some of the principal's functions.
Some €175,000 was recently spent on Knocknagrave national school. Other national schools complain that there are too many children in their classrooms and that they have to teach in portakabins. Knocknagrave has a lot going for it. There will not be a single national school between Tyndavnet and Clogher, an area of 14 miles, if the current trend continues. I strongly urge the Minister to take on board my suggestion.