ONE Clare primary school is to be included in a national pilot project to look at how small rural educational facilities can be saved.
The two-year programme, which has been unveiled by Minister for Education Norma Foley, will see Tubber National School operate as part of a ‘cluster’ with four other schools around the Gort area, and located in County Galway. Despite representations on behalf of a number of small Clare schools, including Clooney NS, the pilot – which will begin in the new school term – will involve a total of 24 schools in Galway, Donegal, Wicklow, Waterford and Kerry.
The scheme, which has been developed by a working group of school management bodies and teachers’ unions with the Department of Education, will include strategies to share teaching and certain ‘common activities’, including special needs education.
The role of ICT in linking the cluster schools will also be examined.
Each cluster, comprised of three to five schools, will are tasked with exploring ‘school leadership’, including the potential for a number of schools to operate under one school principal,. In that instance, ‘middle leadership teams’ would be put in place across the clusters.
The clusters will also look at how they can best share procurement and costs to maintain IT systems and services.
“All across the country, tremendous energy and local support is provided to our small schools,” Minister Foley said. “They are valued hugely in our communities, and play an important role in community life. This research project will harness some of that energy and will support schools to collaborate in clusters and identify possible solutions to some of the challenges they face.
“Small schools’ leaders and school communities have themselves identified that there is huge potential for collaboration in finding workable solutions. Small schools themselves are best placed to know what might and might not work for them. It is not expected that all of the activities tried out will be immediately successful; the aim is to provide an opportunity over a two year period to experiment safely.
“The Programme for Government commits to continuing to recognise the importance of small schools to communities across Ireland and this innovation provides tangible support to that commitment.
“I have no doubt that the schools participating across the six clusters in this project will provide valuable insights and ideas into supports that can be developed and replicated across small schools.”
Tubber NS will be clustered with schools in Gort, Ballyturn, Rakerin and Lurga.
Funding will be in place for the project’s two-year lifetime and schools will not be asked to make a financial contribution to take part.
European data shows that Ireland has the highest proportion of small schools, defined as a one with four teachers or fewer. Nearly half (44%) of all primary schools in the State are deemed small but account for 14.2% of all students.