Text size

Packed meeting hears fears for future of schools

January 27, 2012

DINGLE’S Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne was packed to the rafters on Monday night as hundreds of concerned parents and local residents attended a public meeting called by INTO staff representatives to discuss issues facing the West Kerry Gaeltacht following budgetary proposals to change pupil teacher ratios.

A number of public representatives were present at the meeting including Kerry North TD Deputy Arthur Spring and Senator Marie Moloney (Labour), Independent Kerry South TDS Michael Healy-rae and Tom Mcellistrim,, Cllr Michael Gleeson, Cllr Micheál O’shea (Fianna Fáil) and former Councillor Breandán Macgearailt, North Kerry TD Deputy Martin Ferris and Cllr Toiréasa Ferris (Sinn Féin), Cllr Matt Griffin, Cllr Seamus Cosai Fitzgerald and Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael).

Chairing the meeting were Principals Seanachán Macgearailt, Seán Ó Catháin and Treasa Ní Mhainnín.

Present also at the meeting were representatives from other primary schools located outside An Gaeltacht including Fybough National School in Keel, who are facing the loss of a teacher if the proposals go ahead. INTO President Jim Higgins also attended.

In addressing the packed auditorium, Scoil an Ghleanna Principal Seanachán Macgearailt, branch secretary of Craobh an Daingin, explained how the majority of primary schools located in the Corca Dhuibhne area will lose a mainstream teacher within the next four years as the recent changes to staffing schedules apply to schools with less than 86 pupils. A reduction in learning support hours is also anticipated and some schools in the region may even face closure or amalgamation.

The meeting heard that the vast majority of two to three teacher schools are located in rural areas, such as Corca Dhuibhne, and many multi-grade classes, consisting of three or four different class groupings, will now be placed in classrooms with 25 – 30 pupils.

Treasa Ní Mhainnín said schools in An Ghaeltacht will face an increase of 10 per cent in pupil/ teacher ratios rather than the two per cent increase proposed nationally, because the pupil concession allocated to Gaeltacht schools is also ceasing under these new proposals.

Speaking at the meeting was Spanish teacher Lucia Atencia who is concerned that funding for the teaching of a foreign language in primary schools will be cut.

“Ireland is the only country in Europe which does not teach a foreign language at primary level – without this, we are at an immediate disadvantage,” she said.

Speaking passionately, former INTO President Jim Higgins called on the TDS present to “stand up for small schools”.

Addressing the attendance as Gaeilge, Cllr Micheal Gleeson spoke of the importance of children and culture in Gaeltacht areas, sympathising with the plight of the teachers and referring to the “high price a child has to pay for the greed of bankers.”

North Kerry Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris slammed the proposed cutbacks adding that it is “difficult to be a TD today, as what’s happening in education at the moment is an absolute disgrace.”

Labour Senator Marie Moloney admitted that “things were bad”, adding that 80 per cent of the education budget goes on teachers’ wages with only 20 per cent spent on services.

North Kerry Labour TD AJ Spring commended the resolute solidarity of those present in their quest to protect Gaeltacht schools and An Ghaeilge. He also said that the inequality being shown to Gaeltacht schools in having to sustain a 10 per cent increase in pupil teacher ratios rather than two per cent, needed to be addressed.

Outlining the issues at stake for schools and the community at large in Gaeltacht areas, former Councillor Breandán Macgearailt said, as Gaeilge, that three elements were crucial to the Gaeltacht’s survival, “teanga beo, daoine a bheith ag obair sa Ghaeltacht agus scoileanna a bheith ann.”

South Kerry Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin also spoke in Irish, drawing attention to the fact that he had scheduled a meeting to specifically discuss the matters concerning primary schools in the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht with Taoiseach Enda Kenny today (Wednesday), having also raised the issues facing Corca Dhuibhne in his meeting with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last week.

He outlined details of alternative cost-saving measures tabled by Fine Gael’s Education Committee at a recent parliamentary party meeting which could challenge the need to implement the current budgetary proposals. The Deputy also raised the dilemma facing Scoil Naisiúnta an Chlocháin which has no other Gaeltacht school within reasonable proximity if faced with amalgamation.

Issues raised at the gathering are set to be highlighted at meeting, scheduled by four Labour and four Fine Gael representatives, with the Minister for Education this Thursday.