Friday, March 16, 2012

"Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn..."

I know what it is like to think small schools are a waste of money and that amalgamation is only sensible. I know what it is like to think that rural communities are parochial and need to be modernised and "get real".
Bríonglóid Ruairí Quinn!  - Ruairí Quin's Dream.
The most dangerous peril facing all the Gaeltacht Areas is the actions of the current Minister of Education, Rúairí Quinn, to close by amalgamation the priceless community treasure in these areas of the local school. This action will complete the work commenced in the statutes of Kilkenny in eliminating finally the use of Irish as a community language. However it also will have effects in the other areas of rural Ireland making them even more isolated than they are by sucking the life blood of the laughter of little children from them. A dead district!

If I may quote the poet,
"...Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn; 
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen, 
And Desolation saddens all thy green: 
One only master grasps the whole domain, 
And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain. 
No more thy glassy brook reflects the day, 
But, choked with sedges, works its weedy way; 
Along thy glades, a solitary guest, 
The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest; 
Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies, 
And tires their echoes with unvaried cries: 
Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all, 
And the long grass o'ertops the mouldering wall 
And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand, 
Far, far away thy children leave the land. "

 I have come across these two letters, addressed to our Public Representatives,  a real cri de coeur from a desperate primary school teacher (I have the name!) concerning the plight being visited by the anti-rural policies of this Government. The effects of these decisions of the urban-biased minister Ruairí Quinn will be particularly devastating in the Gaeltacht but in fact no rural area will be uneffected and they herald the further demise of our unique rural life. Will the Public Representatives pay any heed? Will the minister heed the cry of the rural students, "Éist Linn Ruairí Quinn!" or will he continue to reinforce the urbanisation of Ireland through the virtual elimination of the unique Irish rural and Gaeltacht  identity?

The first letter was written in January:

Dear Public Representative,
Change in pupil-teacher ratio in small schools
This will affect every school with an enrolment of 86 or less. 
The retention figures for small schools will be applied retrospectively to last September's enrolment figures and will mean that to keep your teacher, schools will have to have an enrolment of:

The idea is to force smaller schools to amalgamate or close, by making it more and more difficult to teach larger groups, with fewer teachers having to teach more classes. This, with all the attendant paperwork and preparation, coping with the special needs pupils in larger classes etc. will force many schools into a situation where closure or amalgamation is the only option.

It will also affect the GA support provision for the school, which will be based on the number of mainstream teachers.
A school with three teachers will be entitled to 15 hours, but when they lose a teacher, it goes down to 10. Pupils will lose out on support because of this.
This is an attack on rural Ireland. It seeks to discriminate against rural communities, because the majority of small schools are in rural and/or Gaeltacht communities.
It is also an attack on minority schools, such as non-Catholic schools. These also tend to be small schools.
It is with deep regret that I am contacting you on behalf of the children of rural Ireland, whose very futures are being dismantled by misguided and anti-rural policies being pursued by the current minister for education and others in the current administration. Below this e-mail, I have attached a copy of a letter I e-mailed to every school in Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath, outlining what the increase in Pupil:Teacher ratio will mean and asking them to attend a public meeting in Gullane's Hotel, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway on 20th January at 8.30pm

The people of rural Ireland are being discriminated against, in a very targetted and cynical way. Our way of life is being eroded by successive anti-rural measures. I will not go into these at present, as to do so would distract from the purpose of this e-mail.

However, these measures have culminated, recently, in a very cynical attempt by the minister for Education, to force small schools into amalgamation or closure, by raising the pupil-teacher ratio IN SMALL SCHOOLS ONLY. This will result in a loss of teachers, which will mean larger classes, greater numbers of class groupings having to be taught by one teacher (with all the attendant paperwork and preparation), larger numbers of special needs children in one classroom, and all the attendant difficulties which this will inflict on smaller schools.

The idea, of course, is to make it so impossible to teach in these circumstances, that the schools are forced into closure or amalgamation.

The McCarthy report recommended "rationalisation" ie. the closure or amalgamation of all schools with 100 pupils or less, starting with all schools of 50 or less, then moving on to the 100 or less schools.

The government knows this would cause uproar, so they want the request for amalgamation to come from the schools themselves.

Hence the sneaky, cowardly, cynical and discriminatory attack on small schools P:T ratios, in an attempt to force schools into an impossible choice.

They can try to carry on with fewer teachers, larger classes and more class groups, struggling with special needs - or they can go and ASK the minister for amalgamation - the very thing he is trying to achieve by the back door.

The new rules on the arrangements for learning support will further exascerbate the situation, as, when a school loses a teacher, they will also lose four or five hours of learning support as well, as the number of hours support is linked to the number of mainstream classroom teachers in the school.
I would have had more respect for the minister if he just came straight out and said he was closing all schools with 86 or less pupils and faced the outcry from the people in a straight and honest way!!!

At least then, the anti-rural bias in this administration would be seen for what it is, and people could fight it in every way possible, at least knowing what they are up against.
Instead, we have this sneaky, cowardly chipping away at everything which makes a rural community worth living in. They took away the post offices, the Garda Stations and now they want to remove the heart of every community - the local school.

This is not for the good of the children, but for the bottom line-cash, and Ms Merkel's opinion that the Irish people are unable to choose their own lifestyle, and should be shown the error of their ways.

"We haf vays of making you urbanise!"
Actually, Ms Merkel, and this spineless government, who are happy to do as they are told, we like our rural way of life! Others have come and gone, trying to make us fit into their mould and see things their way, and frankly, even Cromwell didn't manage to tame us, so what makes this government think they can change us?

In the words of the song "The strangers came and tried to teach us their ways, and they scorned us just for being what we are. But they might as well go chasing after moonbeams, or light a penny candle from a star".

Sadly, however, this doesn't just apply to outside forces like our "friends" in Europe, but to a government, so far removed from and out of touch with the realities of life in rural Ireland, that they are willing to rip the very heart out of rural communities. If this measure is not reversed, small schools which have been a feature of rural Ireland and of Ireland in general, for generations, and which have provided educational excellence for hundreds of years, will be a thing of the past.
Parents should have the right to have their child educated in their own community if that is their wish. I, personally, lived and worked and taught abroad for many years, but made the decision to come home to Ireland when we had children PRECISELY so that they could be brought up in a rural community and educated in a small school. I have first-hand experience of large schools and I made the choice that this is not what I wanted for my children. I believe I should be entitled to make that choice for myself and my family. I believe the right to make that choice should be a fundamental right for EVERY parent in the country. Large urban schools are fine for those who wish to attend them, but that model should not be forced on those who choose to live otherwise. If small schools disappear from our landscape, it will be a tragic loss to this country.

There is a further issue. I don't know if you have considered how discriminatory this measure is.
It only applies to small schools. This means that it applies mainly to rural schools and non-catholic schools. This is discrimination. It should be seen as such, and resisted by whatever means possible.
You will face a bitter fight if you try to implement the forced closure or amalgamation of small schools, by the back door or otherwise.

This attack on small schools and the rights of parents to bring up their children in Rural Ireland and have them educated in a local small school, must not be allowed to happen. Laws and decisions made by people who do not understand rural life and who do not respect our right to live in the countryside if we wish, should not be forced on us.

The second letter more recently (March 2012)

As many of you will know, because I contacted you either directly, or through networking, I have been campaigning strongly for this increased P:T ratio in small schools to be reversed. I feel passionately that the future of rural Ireland, our links to the past and our culture, the Gaeltacht, the islands and all that makes us unique in the world is at risk if we take the small school out of the system and force a homogenised, pasteurised, one-size-fits-all educational system onto our children. I say this, not out of any romantic notions, but as a former emigrant and as a person who grew up not appreciating my own education. 

You see, I know where Ruairi Quinn is coming from. 

I, myself, as a teenager, felt disdain for the "peasant" rural way of life which I felt I was forced to lead. I couldn't wait to get away and become really cosmopolitan and rich and live in a city somewhere with everything to hand. Like the characters I used to watch in Dallas and Dynasty, I wanted the fancy dresses and the cocktails and all the rest! I put myself through college, with the help of a grant, as we had no money. I worked three jobs. I studied morning and night, and I got my degree, found a flat and a good job and enjoyed the high life. I travelled and I moved to England. Was I happy? Yes, for a while. But I soon realised how hollow and empty it all was. 

I trained as a teacher in England and worked in several schools, both at secondary and primary level. All were large schools, some very large. I worked with children of all ages and all races, with and without special needs. They all had one thing in common - a fierce pride in their own culture and identity. I slowly began to see what was actually valuable and important in life. I began to look at my parents and see the sacrifices they had made so I could become "posh".  I also began to see that what I spent my teens looking down on, was actually what I wanted most for myself and any children I might be blessed with. I met my husband, got married, and when it came time to have children, we decided to move back, so they would be at the heart of their community, near their grandparents, and educated in a small rural school. 

I now have five beautiful children who are all in my lovely rural three-teacher school, except for one, who has moved on to the local, reasonably small, secondary school. I feel they are getting an excellent education as I am blessed with the finest team of dedicated teachers it has ever been my pleasure to work with. They lack nothing (except a GP room/ hall, which I would kill for, but then again, they have three acres and a playground with swings and slides, so I shouldn't complain), and are happy and well rounded, as are all my pupils, thank God. There are no bullying issues or social problems, like the ones I faced daily in England. No drugs,no knives, no obesity, no major problems. I have many with special needs, but they are accepted and supported by both teachers and their peers. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because  you see, I know what it is like to think small schools are a waste of money and that amalgamation is only sensible. I know what it is like to think that rural communities are parochial and need to be modernised and "get real". 

However, having seen all possible sides, sizes and levels of education in Ireland and abroad in my twenty plus years as a teacher, I now understand the jewel we have in our small schools and our tight knit small communities. 

I now understand that what makes us uniquely Irish and special, is something which must be protected at all costs. 

If this next batch of emigrants come back in a few years to raise their children in a rural area, close to their communities, as I did, along with many others, there is a good chance that if this government gets their way, they will not have a small school in their area for the children to come back to. Will they ever forgive us if we have let that happen without a whisper of protest? 

Those of you who advised against "divide and conquer" are absolutely right. In a modern Ireland there is a need for large schools, and highly populated areas need large, modern, well run schools. However, small schools are also modern and well run, and are also badly needed by their communities. 
It took me a while to realise it. We don't have the time to wait for Ruairi Quinn to see it. By the time he realises the importance of small schools (and DEIS schools for that matter), they could be consigned to the history books. 

We, the leaders in the education sector, MUST stand in his way, but we must do this together. "Divide and conquer" would be playing right into the hands of a short-sighted administration intent on selling off the family silver and ( if you'll pardon one more cliché) are quite willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

I'm sure you are aware of the planned protest in Loughrea on Saturday 24th March at 2pm and the handing in of petitions to Ciaran Cannon's office at 3pm. I would appreciate anything you could do to promote and support this protest. If you have any connections with the GAA or the IFA who could be persuaded to come along and get involved, that would be great. 

We are also in the planning stage of a huge, nationwide rally, coordinating all of the various local groups which have sprung up all over the country. We hope to converge on Dublin from all parts of the country and cause maximum disruption, on all the various county roads on the way up, and then, once in the city, to  come in from as many different angles as possible, so as to ensure as many different areas are disrupted as possible. With Dublin at a standstill, it will be impossible for the media to ignore us, as they have done in the past. 

The date is not set yet, but it will be at least a couple of weeks, so we intend to use that time to plan the rally very carefully. 

I'm attaching the letter and petition I sent to all the schools I can reach. It lays out the purpose of the protest and there is a page to print off and fill with signatures. If you could help with getting signatures - maybe passing it on to your party members etc, it would also be a huge help. 

Rural Ireland is valuable, and worth saving. Our children are just as important as those born in a highly populated urban area. This discrimination must not be allowed to stand. 


Thursday, March 1, 2012


Extraordinary things have been happening in the last few days.

Running for Ireland

Fighting for Ireland
In the last week we have been learning about a campaign started by the forming boxing campion, Bernard Dunne, who although was less than successful is his own study of Irish at school found that when he was fighting and conscious of the fact that he was an ambassador for Ireland. He felt a certain inadequacy because he was not able to speak the national language - the only thing that really distinguishes the Irish from every other people. (Language is indeed the badge of identity par excellence. To use the words of Professor Joe Lee, "With language little else seems to be required!" Why did people applaud so enthusiastically when Barak Obama said "Is Féidir Linn." in Dublin's College Green? Why did the rafters of St Patrick's Hall ring when Queen Elizabeth of England said, "A Uachtaráin agus a chairde"?)

So instead of doing nothing like most of us would do he acted. He went a purchased the book and the tapes while in the US and started to pick-up where he left off at school. Like most boxers who become champs he does not understand loosing and so he is in this thing to the bitter end.

So his idea was to get one hundred thousand people to help him and he launched it on an RTÉ Chat show last Saturday and this is what happened.

The essence is that people may join a club - Bernard Dunne's Bród Club - and he has recruited a few very interesting and some very extraordinary people, including the beit noir of the language Kevin Myres, to join in this using the little bit of Irish we all have. This will then be supported in a television programme starting on Monday 5th March - which by coincidence is that start of that fortnight known somewhat strangle as Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week!).

Today some 1160 people have joined in and more seem to be signing up as I write.

The second thing that is happening is the second Rith (the last one was held two years ago) which is scheduled to last fro the 8th to the 17th March. Tracing its origin from similar events in the Basque Country (Korrika) and also in Brittany (Ar Rededag), Rith 2012 is a national festival that will take place between 8th and 17th March 2012 as one of the main events of Seachtain na Gaeilge. A 1000km course has been laid out for a massive relay-race run, running from morning to night, from Gaoth Dobhair to Inis Mór (Aran Islands, Galway) over 10 days with thousands of people taking part in over 200 towns and villages. They will carry a baton which contains a message from the President of Ireland, Micheál D Ó hUigín, which will be read at the Cill Rónáin St Patrick's Parade. Judging from the success of the last Rith in engaging local communities it looks like this will be great fun too and any moneys collected are used 

It is encouraging that these happenings are coming from the "grassroots" as it were. They are in sharp contrast to the discouragement and lack of enthusiasm being displayed by officialdom in matters of the language. In the past year as we have pointed out several steps backward have been taken by the Government: 
• the abolition of the necessity to publish bills and acts in Irish and English at the same time;  
the emasculation of the Office of the Language Commissioner by merging it with the Ombudsman's office; 
• the closure of  small schools or the removal of a full compliment of teachers which will effect over 40% if not more of Gaeltacht Schools; 
• the refusal of the Minister of Education to acknowledge the right of children to an education in Irish (including the denial of that right to the Parents & Children of North Kildare!);
• the abolition of assistance for trainee teachers in that part of their training which requires their staying in an Irish speaking area; 
• the intransigence and indeed inefficiency of Foras na Gaeilge in administering the little funding available to assist the voluntary sector in language on both sides of the border; 
• the general inability and unwillingness of state bodies to serve those people who actually try to exercise their constitutional rights to engage with them in Irish.
This is not an exhaustive list....

But let's not dwell on these things. Let's rather rejoice and be proud of the two thisng that I started talking about. Bíodh bród againn astu! (Be proud about them!)

If Rith 2012 is going through your district, village or town be sure to go out and join them or encourage them on the side of the road! It'll be fun!

I see that since I started writing this a further 19 have signed up to Bernard's club. Have you? No?

Here's your chance!

This was posted yesterday early afternoon since then 175 have signed up (10.00am 2nd April 2012)