Last October, the Holy Spirit junior school in Greenhills was told it would lose a teaching post and would have to go from having four junior infant classes to three. This was because a number of parents who had planned to start their children in junior infants in September decided to keep them back a year in light of the scale of the Covid pandemic at the time and the negative impact it had already had on their children's preschool education. For the past five months, the school has managed to shuffle around teaching hours and use the Covid learning and support scheme to keep the fourth junior infants class open and keep the teacher at the school. However, the school has now reached the end of the line. Unless the scheme is extended or some other support is offered, this teacher will be out of a job, the classroom will be closed and the children will be scattered across the remaining three classes. This will have a massively disruptive impact on those children and will push their class sizes above the pupil-teacher ratio for the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, band 1 status, which the school has been assigned.
The school, the parents and the children are pleading for supports now to keep the class open and to keep the teacher in post for the remaining weeks of the school year. They are also pleading for the fourth junior infants class to be supported come September. As matters stand, the three junior infants classes starting September 2022 are fully subscribed and the school has a waiting list of 24 other children looking for places. In addition, the school has already proactively been welcoming in Ukrainian children - refugees from the war - and are expecting more. It makes no sense whatsoever to have a classroom empty and 24 children unable to get school places simply because the school numbers dipped during a particular period in the pandemic. The assurances they seek is that come September they will have four junior infant classes again. If the Minister can give that assurance, surely she would also agree that it would be a folly to lay off a teacher now, close a class and put four classes into three, particularly in view of all the disruption this would cause now and in terms of trying to get the teacher back come September.
I have been contacted by many parents, whose children either go to the school or are seeking to do so, outlining the impact this situation has on them. I will reference what Jessica wrote. She indicated that she is one of the parents who made the extremely difficult decision to delay stood entry for her child due to serious concerns about the impact of Covid and restrictions on the child and their education. She went on to explain that very difficult decision. She wrote that she was not the only parent to take this difficult decision and that as a result of reduced enrolments, the school lost a teaching post. She further wrote that she was unaware of the impact her decision would have but that to penalise the school by reducing teacher numbers was short-sighted on the part of the decision makers involved. She went on to say that failure to address what is happening will cause lasting damage to the education of this cohort of children.
I wrote to the Minister, Deputy Foley, about this matter last October. She replied that the school's enrolment did not reach the enrolment required to maintain the post for the remainder of the year. She indicated that the school submitted an appeal to the primary staffing appeals board, which made a decision on the basis of published appeals criteria. She further indicated that the board operates independently and that its decision is final, that is, “No.” However, the issue is that the grounds for appeal at that time were outdated and did not take into account the fact that we were in a pandemic. The dip in the number of children starting junior infants last September was much higher than normal as a result of the pandemic. It was a once-off and should be treated as such. Neither the school, the parents, the students nor the teacher should be punished as a consequence. They need a commitment that the teacher will be retained now and that the class will be retained come September.