I have been contacted by parents and staff of Our Lady of Mercy primary school in Sligo regarding the proposed suppression of one teaching post with effect from 31 August 2001. The school is situated in an area of huge economic and social disadvantage, the worst in the north-west. Over 70% of the catchment area of the school is in this disadvantaged region. It is one of the main disadvantaged regions in the north-west and it is preposterous that the Department of Education and Science is proposing to remove a teacher under the urban cycle for disadvantage scheme.
This is the largest primary school in Sligo town. The Minister saw at first hand last February the excellent work being done by all the partners in the school community. Removal of this post will cause problems which the school thought it had sorted out previously. The school authority simply cannot implement the Department's maximum class size guidelines if this decision proceeds. At junior level it would mean class sizes of 24 to 26 when the minimum is 20, while at senior level it would mean class sizes of 31 to 35 when the maximum is 29.
Our Lady of Mercy school has a strong policy of integration as laid down in the Department's guidelines. Given the school's open door policy and its strong ethos of concern for the poor and socially disadvantaged, the loss of a post in the next school year would seriously compromise the school in that area. The school has not even had the benefit of the second post during this school year. The post had to be advertised and the second successful applicant had to work three months' notice. This person is not due to start in the school until 28 May, almost at the end of the school year. The school spent over £400 advertising for a temporary teacher and got no reply. Natural justice and a sense of fair play should be applied to the school. There are over 540 students and 31 teachers and they demand that this post not be suppressed.
I will quote from a letter forwarded to the Department of Education and Science by the home/school liaison co-ordinator.
As the H.S.C.L. co-ordinator in this school I simply cannot accept what you set out in recent correspondence to Chairperson, Board of Management.
I know only too well from first hand experience on the ground how much we need to keep this second post.
The maximum class guidelines will not be adhered to and already hard pressed teachers will be unable to cope with the extra numbers. All the good work of recent years will be undone by this poorly thought out decision.
I urge in the strongest of terms that the decision be reversed and that we be allowed to keep this second post for another school year even in a temporary capacity.
If the Minister is not willing to give priority to disadvantaged status in urban areas, the Government is losing its way in education policy. I urge the Minister of State to, at least, allow the second post to be left in a temporary capacity.