Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Adjournment Debate

School Accommodation.

10:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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This issue is one that virtually every Member experiences in his or her constituency. I refer to large prefabricated school buildings, by and large, portakabins, inadequate conditions, inadequate provision for children and schools awaiting a permanent site and permanent recognition. The matter is the bane of the primary school system.

The school to which I refer is Glasnevin Educate Together, which was founded in September 2002 under the patronage of Educate Together. It has a special unit for children with autistic spectrum disorder, which was opened in September 2003 by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. In the six years since it opened, numbers have increased steadily. There are currently 210 children and there is a waiting list of 219 children, who would gladly come to the school in 2009 but unfortunately that is impossible in the present circumstances. The school is viable but it is awaiting recognition from the Department of Education and Science. The result of the refusal to grant permanent status means that the school is deprived of the minor works grant, which is worth €9,163 this year. I tabled a question on this last month. The effect of non-recognition is that necessary grants for the maintenance of the school are denied.

The school has a student population representing 25 nationalities, a sizeable number. It is dealing with major ethnic diversity that requires extra attention, facilities and support. The building is drafty, inadequate, old, cold and cramped. It has unsanitary toilet facilities and portakabins. Even the unit for autism is located in a portakabin. The schoolyard is tiny and there is very little space for the children to play in, with the result that they must go to the local GAA club's playing fields for physical education. There is no hall for school events. The facilities are minimal. Teachers, staff, pupils and parents are working together in difficult circumstances to provide quality education and are not getting assistance they deserve from the Department of Education and Science. Last year, there was a glimmer of light on the horizon when the Department sanctioned the acquisition of a three-acre site for the school and requested the OPW to source same. However, the school was informed recently that, because of cuts in capital expenditure, the Department had postponed the site acquisition and, therefore, it has gone down the tubes.

The school is in limbo as it has neither permanent recognition nor permanent accommodation. It has not received the grants and additional funding to which it should be entitled at this time. Everybody is working and studying in unsatisfactory, inadequate conditions. The Minister of State can imagine what it is like with cold, foggy and wet days coming one after the other, while the exact opposite is the case in the summer when it is sticky and unbearably hot. I call on him to make progress. I would like the Department to show its intent to address the situation in the short rather than the long term.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides an opportunity to outline to the House the history behind Glasnevin Educate Together and why it does not have permanent recognition at this time. Multi-denominational schools serve a broad demographic area. On this basis, the north inner city, including Glasnevin, has for a number of years been served by two such schools, namely, the north Dublin national school project and Dublin 7 Educate Together national school.

Glasnevin Educate Together commenced operation in September 2002 as Dublin North-Central Educate Together national school, subsequently changing its name to Glasnevin Educate Together national school. The school was given provisional recognition at that time because the Department accepted the argument made by its proposers that there was a need for a separate multi-denominational school to serve the Clontarf-Marino-Fairview area of Dublin. When provisional recognition was granted, it was a condition that the patron provided suitable accommodation for the school in the area it intended to serve and this accommodation was required to be capable of meeting the school's needs until the Department was in a position to provide permanent accommodation, assuming the school, ultimately, achieved this status. To date, the patron has not been able to do this and the school is located on a temporary basis in premises outside the Clontarf-Marino-Fairview area, the intended catchment area for the school. It continues to be the Department's intention to relocate this school to that area if and when suitable accommodation becomes available and as the funding situation allows.

For the purposes of clarity, the Minister for Education and Science would like to point out that each new school is generally established with provisional recognition to ensure, among other things, that it has a long-term viability and that it is operating in accordance with the Rules for National Schools. Schools only attract capital funding when permanent recognition is awarded, although schools with temporary recognition receive State support by way of payment of teachers' salaries, start-up and rental grant aid, school transport, where appropriate, and so on.

Four main criteria are considered before granting permanent recognition to a school. These are whether the school is operating in accordance with the Rules for National Schools, whether the school has demonstrated viability in terms of enrolment, whether the school's accommodation is deemed suitable to meet its needs until the Department is in a position to provide permanent accommodation and whether the school is meeting a need which is not being met by existing schools. While the Department is satisfied that Glasnevin Educate Together meets the first two criteria, it is not satisfied that it has met the third and fourth, although the fourth is the over-riding issue, given, as the Minister said, the north city is served by two multi-denominational education providers. While it is the patron's responsibility to secure alternative suitable accommodation, the Department is willing to assist it in identifying this. To this end, it has asked the OPW to endeavour to identify suitable accommodation. The difficulty of identifying appropriate accommodation for school use at a reasonable cost in this built-up area, however, should not be underestimated. The Department is willing to consider any options the school might present.

When a solution has been found to this aspect of the matter and the school has had an opportunity to demonstrate viability in its original intended location, the Department will consider the question of permanent recognition again. I thank the Deputy again for raising this matter and for allowing me to explain the background to this case. I assure him that the Department wishes to see the school properly located and flourishing in its own area and it will provide any assistance it can to achieve this. As a Deputy for Dublin North-Central, I would be glad to take an ongoing interest in this matter.