SMALL schools need more support from the government to ensure that they can remain open for the locals that rely on them, according to the principal of a Cork school with just 20 pupils.
Clara McGowan, a Cork principal, has highlighted the difficulties and advantages associated with running one of the smallest schools in Ireland. St James’ National School, in Bantry, is a Church of Ireland National School under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. The school currently boasts 20 students, two teachers, a special needs assistant (SNA) and a shared learning support teacher.
“The original school opened in 1790 and it transferred to a new building in 1937,” she said. “When I started teaching here in 1994 the principal, Olwen Anderson, and I started a campaign to upgrade the building.
“When she moved I continued the fight and we eventually got a new building and moved in in 2007.”
St James has been involved in the Save Our Small Schools (SOSS) campaign in recent years.
“Our fear was not of closing per se, but of becoming a one-teacher school,” Ms McGowan said. “We have never gone below 20 pupils and never above 37 in the 25 years that I have been here.
“We have always had at least one child in every class but sometimes only one child in a particular class. When there is only one child in a class, potential parents may decide to go elsewhere so their children will have more friends.”
Even one family leaving the area can have a huge impact on the school.
“The major difficulty is the fear that a family with three children may have to leave West Cork to get work and we would lose a large percentage of our population,” she said. “Going on outings is expensive as the cost of buses is massive with so few pupils to cover the cost. Sometimes socially it can be difficult for the children but they generally all play together and get on well. It can be difficult though to make up teams for Sciath na Scoil and soccer.”