Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Adjournment Debate

School Accommodation

4:00 am

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk, Tralee, is the largest voluntary secondary school in the country with just under 1,200 pupils. It was opened in 2001, a result of the amalgamation of Moyderwell and Balloonagh secondary schools as a CEIST school. It has proved to be very successful.

Unfortunately, it was originally built to accommodate 900 pupils when its first enrolment was 1,200. From day one it had to get prefabs for accommodation that still remain on the site. The school has a staff complement of 100, including special needs assistants. It achieves high academic standards and teaches subjects across the curriculum spectrum. It is co-educational with a 50:50 split. The teachers there are very energetic and well-motivated. I must declare an interest as my wife is a teacher there, as well as Deputy McEllistrim's sister.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Is there any Sinn Féin or other party involvement in the staff?

5:00 am

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Not that I am aware of. As it is a top-class school, a large number of pupils in Tralee and the surrounding areas apply for admission to the school. The feeder schools, Moyderwell and Balloonagh primary schools, have first choice. As a result 90 pupils are on the waiting list to gain admission in September. For some time we have been waiting for a consultant post to be filled in Tralee General Hospital. The prospective consultant may not be able to take up this post because he cannot get his daughter into the Presentation School or Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk, due to the waiting lists.

Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk, has been one of the success stories of amalgamation and co-education. It should be given preferential treatment as regards the provision of extra accommodation to replace the prefabs and ensure the waiting lists are removed. I hope the Minister of State's reply will not be the usual formula stating it will be sorted in five years.

I hope instead the Minister of State will enlighten the House with regard to the immediate plans the Tánaiste and her Department have for Mercy secondary school in Mounthawk.

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to apologise on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills who cannot be present to respond to Deputy Deenihan directly. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter because it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in respect of education projects and to outline the current position regarding the application made for an extension to Mercy second school, Mounthawk, Tralee, County Kerry.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. The planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Skills assesses all applications for capital funding. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, the condition of buildings, site capacity, etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.

There are four band ratings under these criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and band 4 is the lowest. Documents explaining the band rating system are available on the Department's website. Information in respect of the current school building programme, along with all assessed applications for major capital works, including the project for Mercy secondary school, Mounthawk, is also available on the website.

Mercy secondary school, Mounthawk, opened in September 2001 as a result of the amalgamation of two secondary schools in Tralee. The school authorities submitted an application for large-scale capital funding for an extension in 2007. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects and was assigned a band 2.5 rating. A schedule of overall accommodation has been completed for the proposed project. The school's enrolment at 30 September 2009 was 1,175 pupils, which represents an increase of 1% in the previous five years.

The school has received capital grant aid in recent years for other works. Under the summer works scheme 2010, it received funding in the amount of €234,239.39 for external environment improvements. In October 2010, it was included in a list of schools that were approved a grant for water conservation measures.

The forward planning section of the Department of Education and Skills has identified 43 priority areas throughout the country where significant additional accommodation will be required at primary and post-primary level in the medium term. Factors under consideration in this regard include population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet demand for places. The indication from the forward planning section is that there is not likely to be a significant growth in demand for additional classroom accommodation in the Tralee area in the short term and that there is sufficient capacity to meet the needs of the area.

The progression of all large scale building projects - including the project in question - from initial design stage through to the construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe regarding the progression of the project. I again thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position regarding the school building project for Mercy secondary school, Mounthawk, Tralee, County Kerry.