Small Schools Project

Sustainability, Innovation, CReativity, Collaboration

The aim of the project is to explore different ways in ​which to improve the sustainability of small schools, ​through working in clusters of schools.

David Brennan

OIDE Senior Leader | National Small Schools Project Coordinator

david.brennan@oide.ie

Project Partners

About

The small schools action research project has been in operation since ​January 2022 and is intended to run to June 2024.


The project has its origins in the Primary Education Forum, which ​identified small schools as a particular area of focus and in need of specific ​policy development.


There are 6 clusters participating in this project across the country. The ​clusters have been asked to self-identify areas in which they wish to ​collaborate in order to improve sustainability and have been implementing ​project work in this area.

Our Values

To ensure that the important role of small schools in their communities is ​recognised, this project aims to trial innovative new ways of supporting ​such schools which are based on:


  • a focus on the value of these schools to their communities
  • voluntary participation on the part of the schools
  • openness to developing and trialling new ways of operating
  • working collaboratively to develop and trial new approaches
  • transparency in terms of governance and review arrangements


Press Release: Small Schools Synopsis

Statistics

Small schools are defined for statistical purposes ​as schools with 4 mainstream teachers or less:

  • 44% of all primary schools
  • 1380 individual school buildings
  • 14.8% of all students

What is Action Research

"Action research … seeks to bring together action and reflection, ​theory and practice, in participation with others, in pursuit of ​practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people"

(Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. 2001)

To proceed unthinkingly is to be caught in the flux of things, to be ​‘caught up’ in dailyness, in the sequences of tasks and routines. Of ​course we have to proceed that way a good deal of the time, but there ​should be moments when we deliberately try to draw meaning out of ​particular incidents and experiences. This requires a pause…” ​(Greene, 1984:55)

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Our Small School

Research Bank

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Our Project Aims

Our Project Structure | Our People

The project's goal is to shape a policy to support small schools by collaborating ​with educational partners to test innovative methods to maintain and enhance the ​operation of small schools in various clusters.


Some of these innovative approaches may involve:

  • Exploring ways to share teaching and learning across different parts of the ​curriculum
  • Encouraging closer collaboration between schools for students to participate ​in shared activities
  • Providing opportunities for Special Educational Needs (SEN) support
  • Fostering closer collaboration among school leaders to combat feelings of ​isolation
  • Offering Boards of Management a platform to exchange knowledge and ​experiences, potentially leading to shared approaches
  • Creating opportunities for Boards of Management to convene and discuss ​future governance strategies, including the possibility of joint Boards within ​legal boundaries
  • Evaluating and sharing procurement practices and expenses
  • Exploring strategies to enhance administrative functions across various ​clusters

Our Project Clusters

Scoileanna Iorras Aithnigh, Co. na Gaillimhe

Cluster Coordinator Seosamh Mac Donnacha

Is pobal Gaeltachta é Iorras Aithneach, atá suite i gConamara. Chúig bhunscoil atá i ​gCnuasach Scoileanna Iorras Aithnigh. Tá na scoileanna sin i gCill Chiaráin, san Aird ​Mhóir, i gCarna, i Muigh-Inis agus san Aird Thiar. Bhí daonra de 1,683 sa gceantar de réir ​Dhaonáireamh 2016 agus tá 141 dalta ag freastail ar na cúig scoil. Tá dhá iarbhunscoil ag ​freastail ar an gceantar, Scoil Phobail Mhic Dara, Carna agus Colásite na bPiarsach, Ros ​Muc. Bíonn teagmháil agus comhoibriú rialta idir na scoileanna agus na hinstitiúidí ​oideachais eile atá sa gceantar, ina measc Ionad Cúram Leanaí agus Naíonra Charna, an t-​ionad aosoideachais i Ros Muc atá ag feidhmiú faoi choimirce Bhord Oideachais agus ​Oiliúna na Gaillimhe agus Ros Comáin agus ionad de chuid Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta ​Gaeilge i gCarna.


Tá traidisiún láidir i measc scoileanna Iorras Aithneach a bheith ag comhoibriú lena ​chéile ar ghnéithe faoi leith d’obair agus d’imeachtaí na scoileanna. Cuimsíonn sé seo ​comhoibriú ar mhaithe le deiseanna a chur ar fáil d’fhoirne na scoileanna chun a dtaithí ​agus a gcuid saineolais a roinnt agus deiseanna a chur ar fáil do dhaltaí na scoileanna ​freastail ar ócáidí scoile agus eischuraclaim a chuireann lena gcuid oideachais agus a ​bhforbairt phearsanta. Ina theannta sin, tá comhoibriú leanúnach idir na scoileanna agus ​Scéim Phleanála Teanga Chonamara Láir chun an ceangal idir na scoileanna agus an ​pobal Gaeltachta a threisiú.


Ag breathnú chun cinn, is í fís an Chnuasaigh don todhchaí, féachaint ar na bealaí gur ​féidir obair an tionscadail a neadú i ngnáth chlár oibre na scoileanna; struchtúr ​feidhmiúcháin na scoileanna a fhorbairt chun gur féidir leo oibriú i gcomhpháirt chun ​freastail a dhéanamh ar riachtanais oideachais an cheantair; infheistíocht chuí a ​dhéanamh i dtacaíocht riaracháin agus cothabhála na scoileanna chun an obair ​comhpháirtíochta a éascú; agus infheistíocht a dhéanamh i gcóras taistil a dhéanfaidh ​freastail ar riachtanais na mbunscoileanna sa gCnuasach.


Some areas of focus

Structured closure of a school

Transitions - Primary/Post Primary

Beacons Community Project

Gaeilge

Our Culture

Community of Practice

Clustered Support

Board of Management Structure

Department of Education

Transitions Webinar

Kerry Cluster

Cluster Coordinator Ursula Coffey

The Kerry Gaeltacht Cluster is situated in the Skelligs Peninsula and includes three ​schools, with a 27km distance between Cillín Liath and The Glen. This cluster offers a ​distinct chance to evaluate the effectiveness of various school governance models, ​especially since one of the schools was transferred to Kerry ETB recently. All three schools ​share the common challenge of being Gaeltacht schools in a community where Irish is not ​the primary language. Currently, efforts are being made to explore a shared digital platform ​to enhance and advocate for Gaeloideachas.

Our Cluster

Some areas of focus

Role of Patronage

Community of Practice

Clustered Support

Leadership Coaching

Student Collaboration

Health and Wellbeing: Lego Therapy


Waterford Cluster

Cluster Coordinator Pat Goff

The four schools within the Waterford Cluster are situated close to each other, spanning a ​10km radius. This proximity has facilitated the rapid development of a strong working ​bond among them. Currently, two of the schools collaborate on part-time ancillary ​services. There is a shared interest among the cluster members in considering the ​appointment of a full-time caretaker to serve all four schools. Moreover, the cluster aims ​to enhance SEN provision and support by establishing a shared SNA substitute panel, ​with centralized Garda vetting managed by the Diocesan office.

Some areas of focus

Distributed Leadership

Community of Practice

Clustered Support

Board of Management Structure

Clustered policy development

Digital Infrastructure

Donegal Cluster

Cluster Coordinator Finbarr Hurley

In the Donegal Cluster, spanning a 50km range between Killygordon and Dunfanaghy, there ​are four schools all with DEIS status.The primary focus of the Donegal Cluster revolves ​around promoting the Wellbeing of the School Community, encompassing students, staff, ​and principals. Through collaborative efforts, the cluster ensures that prioritising the ​wellbeing of all members remains at the core of their initiatives. This involves engaging in ​pedagogical activities for students, fostering collaboration and joint professional learning ​for teachers and school personnel to exchange best practices, offering principal coaching, ​and sharing curricular and administrative ideas, making the cluster highly dynamic. A ​shared drive has been established to facilitate the sharing of good practices. The cluster has ​nurtured a strong bond among the four schools, finding mutual support invaluable. The ​goal is to further enhance this support, not only among the principals but also among all ​school community members through joint ventures, professional development ​opportunities, and collaborative pedagogical events.

Some areas of focus

Distributed Leadership

Transitions - Primary/Post Primary

Community of Practice

Clustered Support

Restorative Practice

Leadership Coaching

Board of Management Structure

Clustered Planning

Role of the Principal

Donegal Cluster Feedback

June 2023

Wicklow Cluster

Cluster Coordinator Anne Kennelly

The three schools in the Wicklow cluster haven’t worked with each other previously as ​they are quite spread out with approximately 40 km between Tinahely and Red Cross. ​Despite the barrier of distance, these schools have forged positive working relationships ​with mentoring becoming an important part of the project for this cluster. They are ​particularly interested in exploring the role of middle management in small schools and ​how Looking At Our Schools framework can be fully implemented in a small school ​context.

Our Cluster

Some areas of focus

Community of Practice

In-school Management

Distributed Leadership

Clustered Support

Student Collaboration

Uses of Charity Number

Clustered Curricular Planning

Clustered Policy Development

Gort Cluster

Cluster Coordinator Mary Curley

The Gort Cluster comprises five schools. The schools in this cluster have been working ​together for many years and have established trust and positive working relationships as a ​result. Historically they have supported each other in policy development, coordination of ​CLASS hours, SEN provision, shared substitution database, shared Principal Release days. ​Monthly meetings for principals in these schools have proved beneficial in sustaining the ​work of a teaching principal. As a result of the strong network already established in this ​cluster, they are currently exploring the possibility of a shared administrator for the ​cluster thereby enabling the teaching principal to focus on leading teaching and learning ​in their individual schools.

Our Cluster

Some areas of exploration

Our Gort CAO

Community of Practice

In-school Management

Distributed Leadership

Clustered Support

Student Collaboration

Leadership Coaching

Clustered Curricular Planning

Clustered Policy Development

Shared Procurement

Digital Infrastructure

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Listen to our Gort Cluster Coordinator

Lead the Way Podcast September 2023

Project Links | Reports of Relevance

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Project Partners Feedback

…schools feel that they are really benefiting from this project to ​date. The opportunity to meet, share practice and discuss issues is ​proving a huge support in the sustainability of their role…”


“PDST support was invaluable in the first gathering of the 4 ​schools together. The day facilitated by a PDST Advisor really put ​the emphasis on teaching and learning for the 4 schools and ​allowed them to begin the process of developing their relationships ​going forward.”


“The PDST TIE have been of great assistance with the creation of a ​space for schools to share documents, policies etc. This is going to ​be invaluable next school year as the schools have agreed to lead ​curricular planning in certain areas and share this with the other ​schools.”


“The project has enormous potential to support the sustainability ​of small schools and next school year should bring interesting ​projects and ideas being brought to fruition.

Our Wicklow Cluster: Clustered Meetings

School Feedback

".....It is becoming increasingly evident that clustering such support ​is working-the sharing of expertise, advice and the professional ​dialogue is exceptional. It is inspiring and motivating to meet in a ​cluster. It is a safe space to explore further opportunities to engage ​and work collaboratively as school leaders


We have worked closely as a group of school leaders for years, but, ​and it is a big but, until our Cluster was formed we had to meet after ​a working day and this was never ideal. I strongly feel that both our ​wellbeing and the quality of our work has improved re the Cluster ​structure......


We continue to collaborate, to share, to explore and to grow as ​leaders together.

I am feeling more motivated and inspired each time we meet and ​this is having a lasting positive impact on my wellbeing, my family ​life and my school community".....

In the press and outcomes to date

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Project Partners

David Brennan

National Small Schools Project Coordinator

david.brennan@oide.ie