Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Questions (243)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

243. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he has engaged in discussions with interested parties regarding the likely impact of proposed cuts to the staffing schedule for small schools for the 2014-15 academic year; if he will consider suspending the proposed cuts; the impact the proposed cuts will have on schools in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21069/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As part of the Budget 2012 decisions, there is a phased increase in the number of pupils required to gain and retain a classroom teaching post in small primary schools with four teachers or less. The first phase of the budget measure took effect from September 2012. The final phase of the budget measure takes effect from September 2014 and will not be suspended. 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 2014 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 0007/2014. The Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. The allocation process for the 2014/15 school year is currently underway in the Department.

There are two schools in County Donegal impacted for the 2014/15 school year by the Budget 2012 measure. These schools have had appeals to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board provisionally upheld and will not lose their posts pending actual enrolments in September 2014.

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. How best to sustain provision for widely dispersed and small local communities does present as a particular challenge, especially in any locality where enrolment is declining to single figures. 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.

My Department and I will continue to engage with the relevant education sector stakeholders in relation to education provision for all areas. Our current configuration of small primary schools has been examined by the Department in a value for money (VFM) review. This review took account of the ethos of schools and the locations of small schools relative to other schools of a similar type. I am currently considering this review in consultation with my Government colleagues and I intend to publish the report on completion of this consideration process.