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Education | Modernisation and supports in smaller and rural schools

To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which smaller and rural schools continue to be adequately provided for in terms of modernisation and supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter.


As the Deputy is aware small schools are defined for statistical purposes as schools with 4 mainstream teachers or less. Small schools are highly valued in their communities in that they provide a vital link to local heritage and history, help sustain rural populations and often act as a link for sports and social activity.

There is a commitment contained in the Programme for Government to continue to recognise the importance of small schools.

Budget 2020 provided for improved teacher staffing levels for small schools. This measure saw a more favourable pupil teacher ratio in small schools from September 2020. This improved schedule will apply in two, three and four teacher schools and ensure one fewer pupil is required to retain/recruit a teacher. This builds on measures in previous budgets which has seen improvements in the appointment and retention thresholds for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th classroom teacher and more favourable enrolment thresholds for one teacher schools situated 8km or more from the nearest school of the same type of patronage and/or language of instruction.

Small schools have also benefitted from further improvements to the primary staffing schedule for all schools implemented in recent years and the staffing schedule at primary level will now reduce to 23 pupils to 1 teacher from September 2023, which is historically the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level.

This builds on measures in previous budgets which has seen improvements in the overall allocation of teaching posts and specific targeted measures for small and isolated schools as well as primary schools on our islands.  The staffing process also contains an appeals mechanism for schools to submit a staffing appeal under certain criteria, including a specific one aimed at small schools, to an independent Primary Staffing Appeals Board.  

Furthermore, in July 2021, my Department launched a two-year action research project aimed at supporting small rural schools. This project officially commenced in January 2022. The purpose of the project is to inform the development of a policy of supports for small schools through working with education partners to trial innovative approaches to support and sustain small schools in a number of clusters. Six project clusters of small schools have been formed, two in Galway, and one each in Donegal, Kerry, Wicklow and Waterford, consisting of 3/4/5 schools per cluster. 

Under Project Ireland 2040 the education sector will receive a total of approximately €4.4 billion capital investment over the period 2021-2025. There will be a rolling 5 year funding envelope which will be updated annually for the period 2026 to 2030 within the Government’s overall NDP funding envelope of €136 billion in exchequer capital (€165 billion total capital including non-Exchequer) that will facilitate building a modern and sustainable school infrastructure.

This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty on our ambitious plans and deliver high quality building projects, with a real focus on sustainability, for school communities across Ireland.  The strengthened focus on refurbishment of existing school stock will have different strands and will include a deep-energy retrofit programme in support of our 2030 and 2050 Climate Action Goals.

I would like to inform the Deputy that it is also open to all schools to apply for funding under my Department’s Additional School Accommodation (ASA) Scheme. The purpose of the ASA scheme is to ensure that essential mainstream classroom and Special Education Needs (SEN) accommodation is available to cater for pupils enrolled each year, where the need cannot be met by the school’s existing accommodation.





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