I have already made clear to the House on a number of occasions that school communities should have no reason to feel that there will be a forced closure of their local school. No school closes because it loses a teacher. Schools close because of a loss of pupils. Small primary schools that have had to close in recent years are those that are no longer viable due to falling enrolments. The enrolment in such schools had typically fallen below a total of 8 pupils for two consecutive school years. The staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy is remaining unchanged at two mainstream classroom posts for the coming school year 2012/13.
The Government recognises that small schools are an important part of the social fabric of rural communities. They will continue to be a feature of our education landscape. However, this does not mean that small schools can stand still or never have their staffing levels changed to something that is more affordable and sustainable for these difficult and challenging times.
A Value for Money examination of small schools has been carried out and I expect the report should be available after the summer recess. The review will take account of diversity of provision, ethos of schools, parental choice, the language of instruction, travel distances, transport costs and the impact of schools on dispersed rural communities. I hope that this report will foster constructive engagement both in the Oireachtas and among all interested parties in looking at the challenges ahead and how best to make provision for primary education in rural and dispersed communities. How best to sustain provision for widely dispersed and small Protestant communities will present as a particular challenge particularly in any locality where enrolment in their schools is declining to single figures and amalgamation is not an option because there is no other school nearby. The Government is intent in fostering pluralism in school provision. Supporting minority churches in maintaining their schools is part of that policy and will inform how the Government approaches the outcome of the Value for Money Study.