I thank the Minister for taking this issue. I congratulate her on her new position and wish her well in future. School staffing, pupil-teacher ratios and classroom size have always been particularly emotive issues, especially for smaller schools, as they relate to children's education and young children in the case of primary schools. The emotion is not just confined to parents, who want their children to get the best possible education, as it also involves staff and teachers in schools. Teachers in small schools build quite a rapport with the community, including parents.
The criteria for dealing with the allocation of teaching posts are set out clearly in the staffing circular 007/2014. As a result of these criteria, 39 small schools will lose a teacher next September, and there is a particular reference to budgetary measures in 2012. I am from a country school which had three teachers and I have seen a change in the manner in which teachers deal with the curriculum now. It is much tougher and there is much more work involved.
Based on a drop in figures last year, schools will lose teachers this year. I will give the example of Meath Hill school in my constituency, where this emotive issue has become evident. It seems illogical that a school with an increasing number of students this year is set to lose a teacher based on last year's figures. Last year, student numbers dropped to 78, which I agree is a significant drop, but the enrolment for this year is 87. Last year was the first in which the school increased the number of teachers to four and much time and effort has been spent building up the school. For it to lose a teacher this year, when student numbers have increased and will do so again next year, is illogical. In the school, one teacher will now have to take first, second and third class together, as junior and senior infants have their own special classroom that has been built. It is very difficult to split fifth and sixth classes, which usually stay together, so the decision was made for first, second and third class to stay together. That means a total of 37 students under nine will be in one classroom, which raises serious concerns. This is not the only matter for a teacher, who will find it difficult to keep an eye on 37 students under nine, as the curriculum has changed and there is much more work involved. There is a serious health and safety issue because we are talking about large classes in small schools.
There has been an appeal and in this case I was informed that if student numbers had only dropped to 80 last year, the appeal outcome would have been positive. I am not sure I see the difference between having 78 students and 80 students. The school is losing a teacher based on last year's student numbers. I would appreciate if the Minister could consider the issue, as the process seems illogical. I look forward to her response.