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Education sources deny Roscrea schools are ‘full’

Primary schools in Roscrea, Co Tipperary have the capacity to take additional pupils and are not ‘full’, as some protesters at the Racket Hall Hotel site, as well as local politicians, have claimed.

Earlier this week, Independent TD Mattie McGrath told a public gathering in the town that its “schools are full”.

But education sources in Roscrea have contradicted this. They have told RTÉ News that there is additional capacity in schools in and around the town, and an examination of Department of Education enrolment data bears this out.

The data shows how one very small school in the town was on the brink of closure last year, down to just 11 pupils.

The enrollment of migrant children whose parents work in local meat processing plants and elsewhere in the town is credited locally with having prevented the loss of this school’s second teacher and with saving the school from closure.

People who have been maintaining a protest outside the Racket Hall Hotel this week have also falsely claimed that schools in the town are full. Some have gone further, making other false and damaging claims.

On Monday evening protestor Gillian Dunne told RTÉ’s Prime Time that “some people can’t get into schools, these people are being taken in and they’re put straight into the schools where ourselves, our Irish folk who are born and raised here for generations are finding it hard to get into these schools”.

Education sources in the town have strongly rejected this claim, with one calling it “absolute nonsense”.

School sources have told RTÉ News that they strive to be welcoming and inclusive of children from all backgrounds, including Irish children – among them Travellers – and children from migrant and refugee families.

Speaking of pupils from immigrant families one school employee said: “We have received wonderful children, and they are an asset to our school. They bring so much and have a positive impact on the other children”.

A staff member at another school said children from immigrant backgrounds were among their “brightest and most able”. This person said that in all their time working in their school they had never heard a racist remark.

While education sources in Roscrea have rejected claims that they are “full” they have however expressed considerable frustration and some anger at the lack of support available for pupils, including pupils from migrant families.

“We were one of the counties chosen to pilot a psychological counselling service for pupils”, one school source said. “That was announced last year, and it was supposed to begin in September but its January now and there is still no sign of it.”

“We have no psychological support for our pupils”, they said.

RTÉ News were also told by others that their school had recently been restricted to commissioning just one psychological assessment over the course of a full year. This was due to staffing shortages in the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).

The long-awaited counselling scheme was announced by the Minister for Education last May. The programme has pledged to provide one-to-one counselling to children in need. It is a measure long sought by primary teachers via their union, the INTO.

A Department of Education spokesperson said work on the programme was ongoing and that it would shortly be in place in schools in the designated areas.

Schools in Roscrea also complain that they cannot get SNA support for pupils who need it.

Some say their school is in desperate need of more English language support for migrant children, but a Department of Education cap on English language teaching hours means they cannot get it.

They say this means children are struggling to access the curriculum and school staff struggling to support them. This has a wider impact on other pupils.

Beyond the school gates the picture some of these school employees paint of the town is a bleak one. One person who spoke to RTÉ News traces Roscrea’s problems back to 2002 and the closure of the Antigen pharmaceutical plant. That resulted in the loss of more than 300 jobs.

“Antigen closed in December 2002 and essentially Roscrea ‘closed’ then too”, this person says.

“Over 20 years there has been a massive decline and I suppose that for some people the straw that broke the camel’s back was the closure of the hotel.”

This person says that teachers at their school no longer live in the town – “they drive in and they drive out” – they say that Gardaí too don’t live in the town. Of workers such as teachers and Gardaí this person says, “I couldn’t see any of them making a decision to settle in Roscrea because of the level of disadvantage”. They say small businesses have shut down amid a proliferation of larger supermarkets.

Others complain of a lack of social cohesion in the town, and of an absence of hope.

School sources have appealed to the Government to step in with additional resources for their schools, but also more widely for the town of Roscrea.

“If [the government] wants to help schools in Roscrea to integrate children coming in then they need to put the supports we need in place”, one said.

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