This article was originally published on 5 September 2018.
Your eyes lock. Your ragged breathing is all that cuts through the silence; the single sound permeating the febrile tension. You look down - away from the pleading doe-soft eyes boring into you, down at your jumper. Your jumper is covered in yoghurt. You are covered in yoghurt. You have burst a Frube down yourself, but it's fine because you are - for the purposes of this introduction - a four-year old child and you do not yet know true shame. You look around you at the empty desks. You slowly raise a hand and turn back to face the teacher, who is standing, forlornly, at the top of the class. "Where is everyone?" you ask - but pronounced all terribly and wrongly because you are four, and you are the type of four-year-old who spills yoghurt all down themselves.
Imagine this, imagine the dread, imagine turning up one day to school and there being no one else there. Just you and the teacher staring at one another, neither of you really sure what the correct protocol for this situation is. You are too young - remember you are four - and too yoghurt-stained for the teacher to let you out to find your own way home, and you are thus trapped at school until a parent/sibling/guardian comes to collect you. The teacher is duty bound to keep you there until you can be rescued. Perhaps it would initially be fun. They would presumably cast aside all attempts to actually teach you. They would instead disappear briefly into an adjacent storage cupboard before re-emerging at the helm of a large CRT television on a trolley that they awkwardly wheel into the room. You, together will watch the only VHS that they have available. That VHS is a recording of one of the stages of the 1989 Tour de France. But soon, as you enter the third hour of watching steroid-addled and spandex-clad athletes meander mountain roads in very poor resolution you start to realise that this is in no way fun. This is hell. It is our nightmare. It is everyone's worst nightmare to be trapped alone in school with a teacher.
And for one student in a school in Achill Island it was a nightmare that they've lived through. For this week, in a primary school on the island of Achill, only one pupil turned up at Bullsmouth National School for lessons.
The school had seen declining numbers of pupils over recent years, with attendance levels hovering around 16 over the last number of terms. However, given the diminishing numbers parents had, in recent weeks, been removing their children from the school and enrolling them in different schools on the island.
The school had apparently come under scrutiny last year and received a critical report from the Department of Education in a Whole School Evaluation. However this was primarily on account of the school being registered as a gaelscoil and it was found that most of the students were speaking English as their first language in the classroom, the overall standard of teaching itself was found to be perfectly serviceable.
The future viability of the school is being scrutinised and it would appear that, should no other pupils enroll or return to it, it will be forced to close. However such a decision would have to be jointly made between the patron, board of management and the parents of the child(ren) in the school as per the government's commitment to protect rural sustainability.
It is as yet unclear what will happen to this poor solitary child. There is no hiding the fact that you haven't done your homework when sitting in a crowd of one.