Wednesday, 6 February 2008
The motion I raise on the Adjournment is the need for the Minister for Education and Science to grant permanent recognition to Glasnevin Educate Together primary school. I was surprised to find that this school does not enjoy permanent recognition. I would have thought that in present circumstances the Educate Together schools would be the type of educational establishments to which the Government ought to be giving help, grant aid and recognition.
These schools are full of exceptionally dedicated teachers. They are inclusive and take people from all denominations. Much of their funding is got through extremely dedicated fund-raising. It is a great pity that those who help the disabled, who are pluralist and who are inclusive do not receive the formal recognition they merit and deserve.
Let me tell the Minister of State a little about this school. It was originally intended to be set up in Clontarf in north Dublin. That was not possible and it was set up in Glasnevin in 2002. It has 13 teachers and six special needs assistants. It is a well organised and well disciplined school and it is a model of academic excellence. It is a very inclusive school in which there are children with special needs and children from overseas. It opened in 2002 and in 2003 it set up an autism unit. That unit was opened by no less a person than the Taoiseach. I know he is not averse to opening anything, but since he chose to be identified with a school of this sort, its progress might be of interest to him and he might feel it should be given permanent recognition.
The unit set up for autistic children is now based in a portacabin, due to the lack of funds, and can facilitate only six autistic students. The school now has 181 pupils and its waiting lists show the enormous demand there is for places. The waiting list for 2008 is 225 pupils, 164 for 2009, 143 for 2010, 124 for 2011 and 18 for 2012. Hundreds of parents are crying out for a place for their children in this school which, unfortunately, has not been given permanent recognition by the Government.
The school is located in a building built in 1831 and the principal exists in a small basement. The school is denied the essentials of a school of this sort, the minor works grant, which is issued to every recognised school each year. If the school got permanent recognition, it would receive a minor works grant. That grant would entitle it to €5,500 per annum, plus €18.50 per pupil or €74 per special needs pupil. That would be a small amount for the Department of Education and Science, but it would be an enormous sum and make a significant difference to the Glasnevin Educate Together school which survives on fund-raising at present.
The school is unable to find a suitable site, although it has suggested four possible locations, a former fisheries building located next to the school, Mount Temple, a site in Ballymun where Educate Together plans to build its first secondary school and a site beside Dunsink observatory where it does not really wish to go. A minor works grant will not be given until the school gets recognition and it will not get recognition until it has a site. Therefore, the school is in a kind of vicious circle where without one, it cannot get the other.
The school has made many applications and representations to the Department, but is constantly fobbed off. If we got permanent recognition for this school, that would guarantee its long-term future. Currently, it is unable to properly plan its future and that of its pupils and is unable to offer the number of places it would like to autistic children. I appeal to the Minister to make the simple order to give the Glasnevin Educate Together school the permanent recognition that will set it and the pupils on a happier road.
I thank Senator Ross for raising this issue and apologise for the fact the Minister is unable to be here.
I take this opportunity on her behalf to outline to the Seanad the history behind Glasnevin Educate Together and the reason it does not have permanent recognition at this time. Glasnevin Educate Together school commenced operation in September 2002 as Dublin North Central Educate Together national school. It was given provisional recognition by the Department on the basis that it would provide multi-denominational education for children in the Clontarf-Marino-Fairview area.
When provisional recognition was granted to Dublin North Central Educate Together national school, it was a condition that the patron provide suitable accommodation for the school in the area it intended to serve and that this accommodation was required to be capable of meeting the schools needs until the Department was in a position to provide permanent accommodation, assuming the school ultimately achieved permanent recognition.
Each new school is generally established with provisional recognition, to ensure, among other things, it has long-term viability. Schools attract capital funding only when permanent recognition is awarded, although schools with temporary recognition do receive State support by way of payment of teachers' salaries, start-up and rental grant aid and school transport where appropriate. The patron, however, was unable to find suitable accommodation in the Clontarf-Marino-Fairview area and it set up the school, as a temporary measure, in the model school building in Glasnevin. This building is in the ownership of the OPW. Critically, the Glasnevin area was already served by two other Educate Together schools. Dublin North Central Educate Together national school subsequently changed its name to Glasnevin Educate Together national school.
Four main criteria are considered when granting permanent recognition, namely, whether the school operates under the rules for national schools; whether the school has determined 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 meets a need which is not already being met by existing schools. While the Department is satisfied that Glasnevin Educate Together national school meets the first two criteria, it is not satisfied it has met the third and fourth, although the fourth is the overriding issue, given that Glasnevin is already served by two Educate Together schools.
The Department is in correspondence with the school, which has recently confirmed its desire to relocate to the area it originally intended to serve. In view of this, the Department is assisting the school by seeking a suitable location for a permanent home for it, although the difficulty of this in a built up area should not be underestimated. The Department will be willing to consider any options the school itself 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 new location, the Department will again consider the question of permanent recognition.
I thank the Senator again for raising this matter and for allowing me to explain the history of the issue on behalf of the Minister. I assure the Senator that the Department wishes to see the school properly located and thriving in its own area and will provide any assistance it can to achieve this. I will bring the views expressed by Senator Ross to the attention of the Minister.
I take it from the Minister of State's response that the only bar to the recognition being sought is the issue of a suitable location and that the Department is prepared to assist in any way possible in finding a site. I take it, therefore, the Department is prepared to provide substantial funds towards that.