Brannoxtown National School
For the first time in over 133 years, the sound of children’s laughter in the school playground has grown silent in Brannockstown.
The gates of Brannoxtown National School closed in December and remain shut.
With the departure of the last remaining three pupils in late November, it was inevitable the school had to close.
A report compiled by Save Our School Brannoxtown (SOSB), a local body elected by the residents, was released last week. Its representatives — Robert Mehigan, Tracey O’Dwyer, Audrey Moore, Pat Kelly and Conor O’Toole — pointed out pupil numbers declined from 87 in 2011, to zero pupils in December 2017.
“This level of decline is phenomenal and disconcerting. The decline cannot be blamed on demographics. Between 2011 and 2016 the population of children aged 5-12 in the Newbridge/Kildare/Kilcullen area, which includes Brannockstown, grew at 154% of the State’s population growth rate of 3.78%. Indeed Brannoxtown School had been heavily supported by the attendance of children from outside the village,” said the group.
“It is the view of SOSB that Brannoxtown National School has closed because of the failure in governance of its patron (the Dublin Archdiocese) which caused parents to withdraw and not enroll their children in the school.”
The Archdiocese has defended its role in the controversy.
Built by the La Touche family of Harristown in 1885, the school was operated by the Baptist Church up to the 1920s, and was then taken over by the Archbishop of Dublin.
“Generations of local residents have been educated in the school and it has been at the centre of village life for well over a century,” the group said. “The patron had control of the school Board of Management and failed to recognise and act in the face of declining pupil numbers from 2011 to 2017.”
It pointed out, that during these difficulities, a highly regarded teacher resigned and took up part-time employment elsewhere. It said this departure was exacerbated by the Board allowing two further teachers to take career breaks in 2017.
The group said in the summer of 2017 the school website disappeared and this was not addressed until the Parents Liaison Committee (PLC) brought it to the Board’s attention in June 2017. It also alleged the patron allowed its Board to operate illegally from June 2016 to June 2017 as it did not have local community representatives as required by the Governance Manual for Primary Schools.
With only three pupils enrolled last September, the Board resigned as it was advised by the patron that it could not continue without parents’ representatives.
A manager was appointed by the patron. The group said many complaints were made to the school. At a public meeting on September 11, 2017, the manager said there was no record of any complaints having been made, and there was also no complaints procedure in place in the school.
From the floor he was told that five official complaints had been lodged directly with the Archbishop in June. SOSB also said school managment chose not to fully engage in the community, with annual events discontinued including the school Christmas show, Christmas carols at the school and a Christmas carol spectacular at Kilcullen Church, which was a very successful fundraiser. SOSB said it has a number of proposals to save the school.
“It is a prerequisite of those proposals that a new principal is appointed,” it said. “The Archbishop has repeatedly expressed his willingness to divest catholic schools, but has demonstrated reluctance to divest Brannoxtown NS. SOSB has sought to meet the patron to discuss how the school could be saved but he has so far declined to meet us,” it said.