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Clare general election 2016 candidate Timmy Dooley of Fianna Fail, takes time out at Lees road, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Public health fears raised if Clooney loses teacher

THE SEANAD has heard claims of potential health and safety concerns at an East Clare school, if it loses a teacher and has to reduce the number of classroom available to its pupils.
The plight of Clooney National School, where pupil numbers are at 73, six short of the 79 needed to retain four teachers, was raised by Senator Timmy Dooley.
The Fianna Fáil member made an appeal on behalf of the school on the basis that removing a teacher would mean 73 children would have to be taught in three classrooms instead of four, making the application of pandemic health guidelines more difficult.
Senator Dooley added that small schools deserved greater protections in order to support the rejuvenation of rural Ireland.
“At a time when we are trying to keep children apart we are cramming them into three rooms as opposed to four, which does not make sense,” Senator Dooley told Minister of State Josepha Madigan, who addressed the senate on Monday.
“It is a small school. The rooms are small. It has been built for a very considerable period and therefore it does not lend itself well to cram that number of students into three rooms when it was formally four.
“From a public health point of view, it would make sense to keep it a four-teacher school and retain that fourth teacher.”
The Mountshannon native said that while he was making a particular request on behalf of Clooney National School, the department should look wider.
“The retention figure of 79 should be completely cast aside this year,” he affirmed. “Teachers should be kept in place because of the issues that have arisen with children effectively being out of school for the past year and a half.
“We should leave teachers in place for one more year and examine it again next year. In the context of Clooney National School, the numbers will be back up next year on the basis of what is expected in terms of young students coming to the school. In other words, it will be back to retention level next year. I suspect other schools would benefit from the same consideration.”
Responding to Senator Dooley’s concerns, Minister Madigan outlined how numbers had fallen at Clooney National School.
“As the school’s enrolment fell from 81 in September 2019 to 73 in September 2020, the school is due to have its teaching staff reduced by one in September,” she said.
The higher education minister outlined the appeals mechanism, to which Clooney National School has made a submission.
“The primary staffing appeals board will consider staffing appeals in respect of staffing for the 2021-2022 school year from schools later this month,” Minister Madigan said.
“The board will meet again in June and in October. The staffing schedule operates in a very clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally, irrespective of location.
“A blanket freeze on the normal arrangements for allocations for one cohort of schools would introduce a significant difficulty.
“The rationale of the Department is that all schools are treated the same. It would be of value to Clooney National School, based on the comments the Senator has made that the school is only six pupils short, to note that next year there will be sufficient numbers to bring it up to the 79-pupil level.”
Minister Madigan undertook to raise the public health issues relating to Clooney school to Minister for Education Norma Foley.
Senator Dooley acknowledged the option of the appeals mechanism, but reiterated his request that “special consideration be given this year, in a blanket way, to all schools”.
He cited the example of Clouna National School, close to Ennistymon, which will go from three teachers to two under the staffing schedule.
“The children in Clouna and many other schools dotted around the country have suffered so much,” he said.
“I appeal to the Minister of State and the government to give serious attention to the retention of the status quo with regard to number of teachers, notwithstanding the fact that some schools have dropped below the retention level, as a special measure in response to the Covid crisis and due to the fact children have been out of school for so long.
“They need every possible intervention to catch up and that is more difficult in smaller rural schools. I thank the Minister of State for her consideration and I hope that is something the government can consider in time.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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