Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Adjournment Debate

School Accommodation.

9:00 am

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for discussion. Lankhill national school on the outskirts of Westport is a long-established school in a rural area. As a rural school, it is at a disadvantage because it is not in a commuter belt. While school building projects in commuter belts are fast-tracked and approved within months, the completion of new accommodation for Lankhill national school could take up to eight years.

The board of management, principal and teachers at Lankhill national school want a technical assessment carried out immediately. The school has excellent staff and student numbers have increased rapidly from 26 in 1999 to 42 in the 2006-07 school year. This increase is due to the significant number of new houses approved in the area and the large number of people who have moved in as a result. Many people living in towns such as Westport are trying to move to rural areas and want their children educated in rural schools because they believe smaller student numbers will give them better educational opportunities.

I ask the Minister for Education and Science to instruct her staff to visit the school and carry out a technical assessment. Rather than wasting taxpayers' money by approving grant aid for prefabricated buildings, which cost €60,000 each and are currently leased, the Minister should move the building project at the school to stage one and include it in the forthcoming list of school building projects. If the project does not feature on the list, it will be left behind for 20 years.

It is wrong to send out mixed messages. On the one hand, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, informs us that the Government wants people to stay in rural areas and encourage proper planning and facilities in them, while, on the other, the Department of Education and Science discriminates against small schools in rural areas. It is wrong to discriminate against rural children. I call on the Minister to ensure a technical assessment is done immediately.

I hope I will not have to raise this matter in the House regularly and warn the Department that I will not let the matter rest. I also put the Ceann Comhairle on notice that I will raise it on the Adjournment and the Order of Business on a regular basis until such time as the project is included in the schools building programme. We do not want Lankhill national school to be left behind.

Tim O'Malley (Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank Deputy Ring for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science regarding the development of infrastructural provision at the school to which he refers. Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of underinvestment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

As evidence of this commitment, in the region of 1,300 building and modernisation projects will be active in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. This year alone, approximately €500 million is being spent on primary and post-primary projects throughout the country compared to approximately €90 million in 1997. I am sure the Deputy will agree that this record level of investment is a positive testament to the high priority the Government attaches to this sector. To reduce red tape and allow projects to move faster, responsibility for smaller projects has been devolved to school level. Standard designs have also been developed for eight and 16 classroom schools to facilitate speedier delivery of projects and save on design fees.

The school to which the Deputy refers is a co-educational primary school with a current staffing of one principal and one mainstream assistant teacher. The school's original application was for capital funding towards the provision of an extension and refurbishment project to provide improved accommodation. Following an allocation of funding to the school under the small schools scheme for 2006 to undertake that project, the school authorities subsequently requested the Department to consider the provision of a new school building on the existing school site instead.

In the circumstances, a reassessment of the long-term projected enrolment, on which the school's accommodation needs are based, is required. This assessment will take into account factors such as current and projected enrolment and the likely impact of proposed housing developments. Once it is complete, a decision will be taken on how best to provide for the school's accommodation needs.

A site visit will be required to inform the final brief for the project and the Department will be in contact with the school authority to arrange a visit at the appropriate time. Following the site visit, the brief will be completed and the project will then be considered for progress in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2007 onwards.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this matter and allowing me to outline the progress being made under the school building and modernisation programme and the position for the school in question.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 November 2006.