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. As part of the Budget 2012 decisions, the number of pupils required to gain and retain a classroom teaching post in small primary schools is being gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014. In these extremely challenging times, all public servants are being asked to deliver our public services on a reduced level of resources and teachers in small schools cannot be immune from this requirement. The phasing of these measures can provide the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible. If amalgamations do take place, they will be voluntary and follow decisions taken by local communities and not by the Department.
How best to sustain provision for widely dispersed and small Protestant communities does present as a particular challenge especially 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.
A Value for Money examination of small schools is almost complete and my Department expects to publish the analysis and findings in the near future. 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. My Department and I will continue to engage with the relevant education sector stakeholders, including the Church of Ireland, in relation to education provision for all areas.
In addition to this my Department has expanded the existing appeals process so that it is accessible to the schools that are affected by the budget measure. In this regard small schools will not lose their classroom post if they are projecting sustainable increased enrolments in September 2013 that would be sufficient to allow them to retain their existing classroom posts over the longer term.
The detailed arrangements in relation to the appeals process are set in the Department's Staffing Circular 0013/2013. The Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.