Seanad debates

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

10:30 am

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

I thank Senator Sherlock for raising these matters. I am here on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Foley, who could not make this morning's discussion. She apologises for that as there was a clash in her diary with other meetings. I am very happy on her behalf to respond on the matter raised by the Senator relating to Clonturk Community College. I am conscious she raised matters relating to two other schools but I do not have details on those because I did not know they would be raised. I will relay them to the Minister, Deputy Foley. In fairness to the Minister, although the Senator said there was a delay of two weeks in responding to the matter, we recognise the pressure on the Department and how the Minister is on the front line trying to deal with how schools cope with Covid-19. It is a priority but I have no doubt she will respond to the Senator as quickly as possible. I will certainly liaise with the Senator and we will contact the school as well.

We must recognise how busy the Department is. One of the good news stories of the Covid-19 pandemic is how well the education system is responding and how schools are reopening. I compliment everybody involved, including the teaching community, the support staff and parents, as well as the Department and its agencies. They have successfully managed to keep schools open over the past couple of months and will do it in future.

Clonturk Community College is a multi-denominational school under the joint patronage of City of Dublin Education and Training Board and Educate Together. It was established in September 2016 as a "start-up" second level school to meet the needs of a growing population in the area and the demand for a multi-denominational second level school. The school opened with an enrolment of 48 pupils in 2016. In September 2019, the school had an enrolment of 343 pupils. It is envisaged that Clonturk Community College will accommodate 1,000 pupils when at full capacity.

In January 2019, the Department approved a devolved grant for Clonturk Community College for the purchase of a modular building that is now in place. This has provided an additional eight general classrooms, four pastoral offices, three guidance rooms, two special educational needs classes, two computer rooms, one art room, one science laboratory, one general purpose room, one principal's office, one staff room, one staff workroom and all the necessary toilet facilities, changing rooms, circulation, lifts and staircases required. This, together with existing accommodation, provides the school with mainstream classroom capacity to cater for 750 pupils.

While awaiting the delivery of the modular building, interim temporary accommodation consisting of nine rented prefabs was installed and remain on the site. The school authorities have expressed the need to retain these to cater for the current cohort of pupils. Officials from the Department provided the necessary forms to the City of Dublin Education and Training Board in order to assess the need for the retention of these prefabs and any other deficits of specialist accommodation. This documentation was recently received by the Department and it is being assessed.

In addition, the school authority is seeking an increase in specialist accommodation to be on the site for the 2021-22 school year. This application is currently under consideration with a view to catering for the school's long-term needs.

In quantifying the specific requirements for September 2021 and future years, the Department is in the final throes of concluding its nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level across the 314 school planning areas through a geographical information system. The GIS uses data from a range of sources, including child benefit data from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department's own school enrolment databases, as well as local information provided by the school community, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise.

The process has been strengthened this year through three specific initiatives. These include enhanced engagement with local authorities on the information on residential development incorporated in the analysis process and additional engagement with patron bodies and their local knowledge on school place requirements. Education and training boards, diocesan offices and national patron bodies such as Educate Together, An Foras Pátrúnachta and others can be an important source of local knowledge. The process has been strengthen this year through three specific initiatives: enhanced engagement with local authorities in respect of the information on residential development incorporated in the analysis process; additional engagement with patron bodies in respect of their local knowledge on school place requirements, education and training boards, diocesan offices and national patron bodies, such as Educate Together, An Foras Pátrúnachta, etc., can be an important source of local knowledge - this will add to information also provided to the Department by local authorities or individual schools; and, in order to aid the planning system, the Department will also be utilising the information gleaned from schools under the national inventory of school capacity completed by individual schools last year as part of the primary online database, POD, and post-primary online database, P-POD, return processes.

As Senator Sherlock will be aware, capital planning and budgeting is undertaken on a multi-annual basis. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive approximately €12 billion over the period 2018 to 2027. This includes €8.8 billion for the school sector and €2.2 billion for higher education infrastructure. A significant amount of money has been provided by this and the previous Government for education and rightly so. The specific allocations in each area are closely monitored and may be adjusted from year to year to take account of project progress and other factors.

Since 2018, in excess of €1.2 billion has been invested in capital infrastructure under the school building programme. A further €725 million is allocated for investment in 2020. The roll-out of Project Ireland 2040 in the school sector has involved overall construction activity during 2018 and 2019 on 139 projects ranging in value from €1 million to in excess of €20 million. There were also 401 projects with a value of less than €1 million in construction during this period. The completion of these 540 projects is expected to deliver more than 40,000 permanent additional and replacement school places and to replace approximately 600 prefabs.

The Department has a large pipeline of projects for delivery under the school building programme. The main elements of this pipeline currently involve 372 large-scale projects and approximately 800 projects for delivery under the Department's additional school accommodation scheme. While good progress continues to be made with the roll-out of projects, the enhanced funding levels envisaged under the national development plan, NDP, will be key to ensuring the successful delivery of the remaining elements of the pipeline of projects during the period of the plan, namely, up to 2027.

Again, I thank Senator Sherlock for raising this issue and for giving me the opportunity to outline the position on behalf of the Minister. I assure her that the application for capital funding for Clonturk Community College for specialist accommodation is being assessed and the school authorities will be notified of a decision as quickly as possible. The planning system and the method for providing additional accommodation for schools throughout the country has greatly improved in recent years and the Department is very responsive in terms of providing places at both primary and secondary level as quickly as possible when they are needed. We can all see the benefits of that. Sometimes schools begin in temporary accommodation but that is replaced with permanent accommodation very quickly.


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