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
The distribution of teacher allocations in small schools is as follows:
4 Teacher Schools
1 Teacher Schools
3 Teacher Schools
2 Teacher Schools
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.
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
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…
Our Small School
Our Project Aims
The project aims 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 the operation of small schools in a number of clusters.
These innovative approaches can include exploring areas such as:
Opportunities for sharing teaching and learning of aspects of the curriculum
Opportunities for closer collaboration between schools for the purposes of pupils sharing and experiencing common activities
Opportunities for SEN provision
Opportunities for closer collaboration between school leaders to reduce the feeling of isolation
Opportunities for Boards of Managements to share knowledge and experiences including scope for discussing and agreeing joint approaches
Opportunities for Boards of Managements to meet and consider future approaches to governance including joint Boards within the limits of current legislation
Opportunities for assessing and sharing procurement and costs
Opportunities for exploring how best to support the administration function across clusters
Our Project Structure | Our People
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.
The Kerry Gaeltacht Cluster is located in the Skelligs Peninsula and comprises three schools with a distance of 27km between Cillín Liath and The Glen.
This cluster present the unique opportunity to examine the efficacy of different forms of school governance with one of the schools having been divested to Kerry ETB in recent years. Synonymous with all three schools is the challenge of being a Gaeltacht school in a community where Irish would not be the home language.
Exploration into a shared digital space to support and promote Gaeloideachas is currently underway.
The four schools in the Waterford Cluster are located within a 10km radius of each other.
Due to their proximity, they have quickly established a positive working relationship. Two of the four schools already share part time ancillary services. There is energy within the cluster to explore the possibility of a full time caretaker to work across the four schools. Additionally, streamlining SEN provision / supports through a shared SNA substitute panel, with garda vetting done centrally by the Diocesan office is a focus for this cluster.
Some areas of focus
Community of Practice
Board of Management Structure
Clustered policy development
Cluster Coordinator Finbarr Hurley
The schools in the Donegal Cluster are located between Killygordan and Dunfanaghy spanning a range of 50km. The four schools in the cluster have DEIS status.
The main focus for the Donegal Cluster is that of Wellbeing of the School Community. In this, the cluster is looking at the wellbeing of pupils, staff and the principals themselves.
The cluster is working collaboratively on many levels to ensure that the goal of looking after the wellbeing of all is central to the project. Pedagogical activities for students, collaboration and joint professional learning opportunities for teachers and school staff to share best practice as well as principal coaching, curricular and administrative sharing of ideas all make this a very dynamic cluster. The cluster has established a shared drive where good practice is shared.
The cluster has developed a great dynamic among the four schools and are finding the support of one and other invaluable. The vision is to continue to grow this support not only among the principals themselves but among all members of the school community through joint initiatives, professional learning opportunities and collaborative pedagogical events.
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.
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 Gort Cluster: INTO Principal/Deputy Conference 2023
speaking on the Leadthe 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.”
Some suggested essential supports outlined by CPSMA(Wednesday 26th June 2019)
Full restoration of the PTR for schools of P+3 and under to pre-Budget 2012 levels.
Provision of at least one Leadership and Management Day per week for teaching principals.
All small schools with special classes attached must have administrative status for principalship.
Funding for a minimum of 20-hours secretarial support per week must be provided in all schools, at civil service rates
Full restoration of the Capitation Grant and a planned schedule of increases into the future.
The requirement for an eight-member Board of Management be changed to a four-member Board in the case of two teacher schools.
Substitute cover must be provided, and funded, by the Department of Education and Skills, for all teacher absences.
Supply panels must be extended nationwide to ensure provision of substitute cover for teacher absences.
The continuation of Principal Release Time Posts to allow for substitute cover for these days.
Small Schools IPPN Position Paper
Potential clustered model couldinvolve:
Shared, full‐time secretary and caretaker
Shared school policy and curriculum planning
Some joint staff meetings
Some shared professional development events
At least one joint Board of Management meeting per annum
Possible joint preparation for community/liturgical/school sports events
Shared extracurricular / extramural activities
Team teaching – sharing expertise.
Our Wicklow Cluster: Clustered Meetings
".....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"......