Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

9:30 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Cathaoirleach for taking this Commencement matter. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, to the House.

Castlebar Educate Together National School was started by a group of people in 2015. They organised an old national school, the Burren National School, but the parents rejected this. It was not suitable. It was outside Castlebar and did not have what was required for a school. The school was established in 2016, which is not that long ago, and opened in temporary accommodation in Cavendish Lane, Castlebar, with 12 students in 2016.

In 2017, Marsh House, an old urban district council building, where meetings were held and which had the Castlebar town council offices, was renovated, and the school moved there with 32 pupils. It had three half-size classrooms, the largest being only 33 sq. m. That was not really suitable either.

In 2018, a half-stream enrolment cap prevented more than 13 pupils from starting in junior infants. That was rejected, so the school grew to 55 pupils in 2018. In 2019, after a year of uncertainty around the half-stream issue, 11 junior infants enrolled. The school had grown to 62 pupils. In 2020, planning permission for Marsh House stipulated a maximum capacity of 68 pupils was a requirement. Therefore, only six junior infants could be enrolled in 2020.In 2021, additional accommodation was granted and a new classroom for 20 junior infants started in the old hat factory where hats used to be made in Castlebar. That is not suitable for a school either. The school became a split campus in 2021. The total number enrolled in 2021 went up to 85 pupils. In 2022, 24 junior infants started in the hat factory and the Minister of State’s colleague, the Minister, Deputy Foley, on a visit to Castlebar in September 2022, gave an undertaking that they would get a permanent school.

Pupils were based across two sites, with a total enrolment of 116 pupils in 2022. In 2023, the board of management compiled a file of potential brownfield and greenfield sites in the Castlebar area, as requested by the Minister on her visit in 2022. That was then sent to the Minister's office. Emergency accommodation for a classroom in Cavendish Lane was sourced as they had run out of classroom space in Marsh House, as well as at the old hat factory. The school is now based across three campuses and it has 141 pupils.

I am raising this issue on behalf of the board of management, the teachers, the parents, who are very responsible, and the students. The school has a very good board of management and it is very well run but the Minister of State must appreciate that it is very difficult to run a national school over three campuses. That is not suitable at all but it has grown significantly from 2016 when it was established to this year when it now has 141 pupils. It is a large national school but it is difficult to run it over three campuses. I therefore urge the Minister of State to outline the necessary steps that are required immediately and I look forward to his response.


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