|Bríonglóid Ruairí Quinn! - Ruairí Quin's Dream.|
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"...Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;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,
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.
YOU WERE ELECTED TO REPRESENT YOUR COMMUNITY-SO REPRESENT US!!! REPRESENT OUR CHILDREN!!! STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR THEIR FUTURE!!!