Dáil debates

Thursday, 3 February 2005

Priority Questions.

School Accommodation.

3:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the analysis which has been carried out regarding the impact on the ethos and language integrity of a school (details supplied) of trebling the number of classrooms in the school; the consultation which has taken place with the school in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3062/05]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The school to which the Deputy refers is an all-Irish primary school serving the west Dublin area. As the Deputy is aware, the area in question experienced rapid development in recent years requiring a significant number of interventions by my Department to ensure that emerging demands for extra school accommodation were met. These interventions comprised a combination of the expansion of existing capacity, where this was possible, and the provision of new greenfield site schools.

The position with regard to the specific school referred to by the Deputy is that last year an application for the recognition of a second Gaelscoil was received in my Department. In accordance with established procedures, the application was referred to the New Schools Advisory Committee, an independent body set up for the purpose of assessing and making recommendations in these matters.

In its report to my predecessor, the NSAC recommended that any extra all-Irish provision required in the area should be met, in the first instance, by extending the existing facility if this were possible. This is in line with my Department's policy and the recommendation of the NSAC was, therefore, accepted.

The patron body of the proposed new school appealed the recommendation before the new schools independent appeals board. The appeal was not upheld and the recommendation of the NSAC, therefore, remained unchanged. Plans then commenced to expand the existing school commensurate with the level of demand presenting. The agreement of the patron was secured for this course of action.

There is no evidence to suggest that the ethos of a school is impaired by size. In this instance, the school will remain an all-Irish facility and teaching resources will be provided to correspond with growth in pupil numbers.

With regard to appropriate accommodation, I recently announced the first phase of the 2005 school building programme which provided details of 122 major school building projects countrywide which will prepare tenders and move to construction during 2005. The school in question is one of those earmarked to progress in this manner. Pending delivery of permanent accommodation, temporary accommodation will be provided to meet the school's immediate needs for September 2005.

I stress to the Deputy the importance of optimising the use of existing provision as a means of meeting demand in areas of rapid population growth. Site costs place a huge strain on my Department's ability to deliver new school buildings and all schools must be prepared to expand to meet demand where site conditions make this possible.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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The Minister is undoubtedly aware that the board of management of Gaelscoil Naomh Phádraig has expressed serious reservations about the proposals to expand from eight to 24 classrooms. The new influx will mean that many pupils will not have any grounding in Irish at naonraí level and they may affect the ethos of the school in terms of there being a uniform level of ability with Irish language among junior infants. Some of these children will have attended naonraí and will be fluent for their age in Irish. However, this will not be the case with the others. There are concerns that if two thirds of the new students do not possess the necessary grounding, the Irish language capabilities of the school may be affected.

Another issue of concern is that the school is extremely overcrowded, has only one astro turf pitch and is using its small PE area as a classroom at present. While it welcomes moves in respect of additional buildings, the school suggests that, particularly when the recreational needs of the children are considered, 16 classrooms would be more than sufficient for the site. It is also felt that putting in place 24 classrooms would be an overuse of the site, particularly under the Department's regulations. Is the Minister aware that the minimum number of pupils appear to have been signed up in respect of the proposal for an additional Gaelscoil in the Lucan-Palmerstown area?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am aware that the board of management, contrary to the wishes of its patron, is opposed to growing the facility. However, all other schools would be asked to expand to meet such a need and it is in that context that the Gaelscoil is being asked to do so. In this instance the Department owns the site which means that we are not obliged to search for another site on which to build a second Gaelscoil, particularly as the need can be met on the current site.

I do not accept go mbeadh daoine ag cur isteach ar chaighdeán na Gaeilge. The standard of Irish in Gaelscoileanna is tremendous. Throughout the country, children who do not come from all-Irish speaking households are entering junior infants in Gaelscoileanna. They are, therefore, entering these schools to learn Irish for the first time. I have no doubt that the quality of the teaching at this Gaelscoil will, as it has at other Gaelscoileanna, remain high.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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Question 10: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if it is planned to have additional classrooms open at a school (details supplied) for December 2005; if not, the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3061/05]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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My Department recently approved the provision of temporary accommodation for the school in question in respect of its additional accommodation requirements for September 2005. Officials from my Department visited this school on 26 January and agreed a proposed location on the site for the temporary accommodation. My Department's technical staff, who will manage the delivery of this temporary accommodation, will now commence work on the necessary documentation to secure planning permission and fire certificate clearance.

The position in respect of the additional permanent needs of this school is that this project is one of 122 projects recently announced that are listed to go to tender and construction over the next 12 to 15 months. My Department's building unit arranged general information meetings for these schools to guide them through the process involved in moving projects to tender and construction. These meetings took place on 1 February in Tullamore and representatives from the school in question attended.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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Notwithstanding concerns that it would be preferable to have 16 rather than 24 classrooms on the site, Lucan is facing a schools crisis which, thankfully, was addressed to some degree by the fast-tracking of the Griffeen Valley Educate Together school. However, difficulties remain as regards the non-use of Adamstown. Parents are concerned that school should be open to as many pupils as possible by September 2005. The patron body does not have access to the information on the ground. If the Minister is not willing to listen to the concerns expressed by the board and is determined to put in place 24 classrooms, I hope that a minimum of three junior streams will be able to commence at the school at the beginning of September.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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As a result of uncertainty, until this year the Gaelscoil had no option but to limit its numbers. However, it also adopted the position that, as regards the 2005-06 year, it would not take on any more children. The Department wrote to the board of management stating that arrangements should be made for a three-stream intake in September 2005 and that accommodation would be provided to cater for this enrolment. Assuming that the board of management does as it has been asked, with the guarantee that the temporary accommodation will be in place, parents will be able to obtain enrolment places for their children.

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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In her initial reply the Minister referred to the meetings held in Tullamore in respect of 122 schools. If schools included in that number have a short lifetime left to them and approval of planning permission is six or eight months away, this would mean that the projects could not start and finish within the envisaged 15-month timeframe. Will such schools be able to remain within the programme or will they be removed and dealt with differently? What will be the position?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Our intention is to progress each of the 122 projects as quickly as possible. Those encountering constraints as regards planning permissions will have to get their skates on. It is the responsibility of the schools to ready their documents for tender, employ architects etc. The Department will support them in that regard. It is our intention to have all under construction within the 12 to 15-month timeframe.