Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Commencement Matters

Schools Building Projects Expenditure

10:30 am

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Reilly for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O'Sullivan, who cannot be here today.

In responding to the issue raised by the Senator I take this opportunity to remind the House of the significant challenges with which we are faced in terms of meeting increasing demand for pupil places throughout the country in the coming years and to clarify the position in relation to the Department's priority for school infrastructure from 2016-2021.

The Senator will be aware that the country has experienced an unprecedented population increase in recent years. This demographic growth has posed a significant challenge for the provision of school places across all needs. This challenge is set to continue. The demographic projections show that enrolment at primary level will continue to increase substantially until at least 2019. Primary school enrolments, which stood at 509,652 in July 2011, are expected to increase to 570,000 by 2018, which equates to an increase in enrolments of over 64,000 since July 2011. Post-primary school enrolments, which stood at 317,432 in July 2011, are expected to increase to 385,000 by 2022, which equates to an increase in enrolments of some 68,000 since July 2011. The demand for additional school places in the post primary sector will continue to increase until at least 2025 when enrolment figures are expected to reach in excess of 400,000.

In reviewing the need for additional school places, the approach taken by the Department is to identify the need for additional school places and then to examine the capacity of existing schools in the area to cater for the overall level of demand. Decisions are then taken in relation to the need or otherwise for an additional school or the need to expand existing schools. The Department is in the process of concluding an exercise to determine where additional school accommodation will be needed from 2017 onwards. The demographic exercise encompassed all areas of the country.

The Senator will also be aware that significant capital funding will be invested in our education system through the Government's €27 billion capital programme announced on 29 September last. Over the next six years, some €3.8 billion in direct funding will be invested in education projects. By comparison, the initial allocation under the previous five-year capital programme was €2.2 billion. This means there has been a significant increase in funding to match demand. This level of allocation allows the Department of Education and Skills to deliver some 19,000 additional permanent primary school places, required by 2019 and 43,000 additional post primary school places required by 2022.

The six-year plan prioritises new building projects as well as major extensions in areas where significant demographic need has been established, including special schools, which will provide for significant additional capacity to meet demographic growth. The plan also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms for schools outside the plan where an immediate enrolment need such as the appointment of an additional teacher has been identified. It also prioritises projects that have a major deficit of mainstream accommodation capacity in respect of current enrolments, require major refurbishment and replacement of poor accommodation and which will also provide additional accommodation to meet increases in enrolments. In addition, the plan includes funding to replace prefabs with permanent accommodation.

I am not in a position to give the Senator an answer today in regard to the particular school project she raised. However, she will appreciate all of these issues are being examined and properly analysed, following which decisions will be made based on evidence and facts. Most people would agree that the resources available under the five-year construction plan, which does not expire until end 2016, will be utilised to address demographic demands. The school project referenced by the Senator will be examined in that context. I reiterate that provision is made in the plan for special education needs demand.


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