Small schools

15th March, 2012

Changes to staffing schedule for small schools

·       The number of pupils required to gain and retain a teaching post will be gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014.     The schools concerned are those with four or less classroom teachers. It is important to emphasise that no small schools will be forcibly closed by my Department due to the changes that have been announced.

·       The phasing of these measures provides the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible.

·       We have a very significant number of small schools across the country.    Because of the way the staffing schedule works at present, small primary schools benefit from significantly lower pupil teacher ratios than larger primary schools.

·       At present, a two teacher school with 12 pupils has an average class size of 1 teacher for 6 pupils. In contrast, a typical ten teacher school with 272 pupils has an average class size of 27.2 pupils;

·       The existing staffing schedule also acts as a disincentive for small schools to consider amalgamation.  We have to ensure that the very valuable but limited resources we have available in the system are used in the best and fairest way across the whole system.

·       There are 3,200 primary schools across Ireland.   One in three primary schools – 1171 – have an enrolment of less than 86 pupils as at September 2011.

·       As a result of Budget 2012 changes in staffing arrangements in the region of 73 schools nationally have been identified as losing a teacher from next September, representing just 6% of all small schools.

Other supports for small schools

·       I would point out also that small schools receive much more favourable capitation and other grant payments due to the practice of minimum payments.  For example, schools receive a minimum capitation payment based on a 60-pupil enrolment.  This means that a school with 10, 20 or 30 pupils receives the same capitation payment as a school with 60 pupils.   This arrangement remains in place.   Additionally, construction costs per pupil for capital projects are much higher in small schools than in larger schools.

Appeals mechanisms

·       An independent Primary Staffing Appeals Board is available to all schools as part of the allocation process each year.

·       In particular, this appeals mechanism will be available to those small schools which are projecting increased enrolments that would be sufficient to allow them to retain their existing classroom posts over the longer term.

If the two 20 pupil schools in a village merge, will you provide capital to fund adequate school buildings?

·       It is not necessarily the case that capital investment would be needed.

·       Each case will have to be assessed on an individual basis to determine the extent and type of accommodation required taking into account the condition of buildings, site capacity etc.

·       The Department would discuss the issues arising with the boards of management of the schools and would aim to provide an appropriate accommodation solution subject to available resources.

Is the Government going to force small schools to amalgamate?
·       The decision making authority for any amalgamation belongs to the Patron of a school, subject to the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills. The Department of Education and Skill’s role is to facilitate any such proposal or discussions between the relevant parties.

·       I want to reiterate that the initiative for an amalgamation may come from a variety of sources, such as parents, staff, Board of Management and in particular, the Patron.   The Minister has made it clear on several occasions that any decisions to amalgamate schools will be taken at a local level.

·       Public services, including schools, must continue to be an important part of the social fabric of rural communities.

What has happened to the Value for Money Review the Department was carrying out?

·       A value for money review on small primary schools is currently being finalised by the Department.  Submissions were invited from the public as part of a public consultation process during 2011 and a large number of responses were received.

·       This review is part of the normal review processes undertaken by all Departments on an annual basis on selected areas of expenditure and is being conducted in line with the standard procedure for value for money reviews.

·       Once completed, the review will be submitted to the Minister for consideration.

·       When the process is complete, publication will be arranged.

Background

·       The phased adjustment is estimated to yield a saving of 250 teaching posts over the next three years, with 100 of these posts being removed in 2012/13 school year.

·       The resulting surplus teachers will be redeployed to vacancies in other neighbouring schools in accordance with the redeployment arrangements.

·       The minimum pupil threshold for the appointment of the second teacher in a 2-teacher school is currently 12 pupils. This means that this school has an average of 6 pupils in each of its 2 classes.

·       The changes that we are introducing will mean that in September 2012 a minimum of 14 pupils will be required for the appointment of the second teacher in the 2 teacher school.

·       The subsequent increases in September 2013 and September 2014 will increase this minimum pupil threshold to 20 pupils.

The phasing arrangements are listed in the table below:

Enrolment thresholds
School size Current Sept 2012 Sept 2013  Sept 2014
2-teacher 12 14 17  20
3-teacher * 49 51 54 56
4-teacher * 81 83 85 86

·       Even when all of these phased increases are implemented the threshold will still be significantly lower than the minimum of 28 pupils that were required for the appointment of the second teacher in schools prior to the mid 1990’s.