Small rural schools good at `identifying and addressing pupils' individual needs'
SMALL rural schools are good at "identifying and addressing pupils' individual needs" according to new research from Queen's University Belfast.
The Small School Rural Community Study investigated the relationship between such providers and their local communities. The findings are based on the views of 91 small school principals and in-depth studies of five unnamed individual schools.
In the north, small schools share an extra £40 million between them a year as a lifeline to keep them open.
A previous audit report found there were too many small schools in the north that required additional funding. They have larger costs per pupil than larger institutions. Additional cash is provided by a formula for all small schools, regardless of circumstances. This has been found to be inconsistent with government's sustainable schools policy.
That policy recommends that at least 105 pupils should be enrolled in a rural primary school while urban primaries should have 140.
Over the last decade and a half, dozens of smaller schools have closed or merged.
Unions have urged governments, north and south, to stop `attacking' such institutions saying they are vital to communities.
According to BBC NI News, when asked by Queen's about the relationship between the local community and the school, the majority of principals said their school was second only to the local church in terms of importance in the community.
Almost all Catholic school principals who took part also said the GAA was one of the most influential organisations in their community.
Many schools also prepared their pupils for sacraments like communion in conjunction with the local church. The report found smaller rural primary schools to be as significant as religion and Gaelic sport in some communities.
The study's authors, Dr Montserrat Fargas-Malet and Professor Carl Bagley from Queen's, said that small rural schools engaged with their local community "in a myriad of ways".
"Small rural schools can help develop a sense of belonging and pride in the community within pupils, staff and parents, as they feel part of the community," they concluded.
"Schools organise community events, share resources with different groups, and contribute to the economy of the area, among many other things."
"Some are perceived to be 'at the heart of the community'. This can mean different things depending on the school, but they often are a 'meeting point' where people come together."
Meanwhile, one of the smallest schools in Northern Ireland has advertised for a permanent teacher.
The deadline for applications for the post at St Mary's Primary School on Rathlin Island is noon on November 10.
According to the advert, the governors will welcome applications for candidates who are willing to reside on Rathlin Island to ensure continuity during term time.