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Fears raised over survival of small Protestant schools

Fears raised over survival of small Protestant schools

The Constitution does not allow for positive or negative discrimination in education based on religious ethos, the Dáil has been told amid concerns about the s urvival of smaller Protestant schools.

Minister of State Seán Sherlock told Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan the Constitution disallowed discrimination, as the Laois-Offaly TD expressed concern about small rural Protestant schools once changes to the pupil-teacher ratios come into effect.

Mr Flanagan said he did not accept the argument about discrimination “but that is another argument”.

He was fearful some Protestant schools would be reduced to one teacher and this was wholly undesirable, he said. Schools would close in many parts of the country as a result with none of the same ethos available “simply because the distance involved will be too great and the area too remote”.

Fair treatment Mr Flanagan said this was particularly an issue in the west and Co Donegal where “there wil l not be an e ducati on of choice available to such children”. He wanted the Minister “without treating people differently, to ensure they are treated fairly in this regard”.

Mr Sherlock stressed the Government’s intent to foster “pluralism in school provision, supporting small communities including minorities in maintaining their schools is part of that policy”.

He said there would be no reduction in teacher numbers f or the next year but he acknowledged it was a “particular challenge” as to how best to sustain schools for widely dispersed and small communities, “especially in any locality where enrolment is declining to single figures”.

Mr Flanagan said Protestant children were three times more likely to be affected by the change in pupil-teacher ratio and enrolment than in other schools and “that’s unfair”.

Pointing out that both positive and negative discrimination were o ut l a wed, Mr Sherlock accepted that in areas with one-teacher schools “pupils may not be able to avail of the nearest school with their ethos”. Ongoing discussions The Minister of State said this was “an issue we have to grapple with” and that would have to be done “example by example”. He said that in his own Cork East constituency there were ongoing discussions with the local bishop about the issue.

Mr Flanagan said there were 199 Protestant schools in the State, including 124 Church of Ireland institutions, 24 Presbyterian, one Methodist and one Quaker. He said 50 of them had fewer than 30 pupils and 149 outside Dublin.

Twenty schools would become one-teacher by the year after next. He added: “I want it addressed by the Minister.” He was also concerned that there were no proper guidelines for amalgamations.
Foilsithe ar 14 Márta 2013 / Foilsithe ar 14 Márta 2013

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