Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

7:00 pm

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment.

I wish, once again, to bring to the attention of the Oireachtas the position concerning the national schools at Rahan and Glenville, County Cork. Some months ago, I raised the matter of Rahan national school on the Adjournment. Rahan is a townland in the parish of Mallow. The school at Rahan has been a major success story in the context of the quality of teaching on offer and the attractiveness of sending one's children there. In one sense, however, it has become a victim of its own success and is experiencing major difficulties with regard to accommodation. As I reported to the House some months ago, in order to bring to the attention of the Minister and the Department the plight of the students and highlight the inadequacies relating to accommodation at the school, parents engaged in what might be described as an unofficial strike and withdrew their children from lessons.

Through local fund-raising and the efforts of the principal, the board of management and the community in general, a site has been made available in order that the Department might provide a new school at Rahan. In addition to being a townland, Rahan is a growing suburb and is an attractive location in which to live. As a result, there has been a major increase in the number of children attending the school there. The accommodation at the school is extremely outdated and a response is urgently required from the Minister and her Department.

The other school to which I wish to refer is that at Glenville. Senator Boyle is familiar with this school and was represented at a public meeting held there some weeks ago by Councillor Chris O'Leary of the Green Party. Councillor O'Leary was made aware of the deficiencies that exist in the context of accommodation at the school.

The most important point to take into account in respect of Glenville national school is the fact that in November 2006 the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, wrote to Members of the Oireachtas, particularly those from the party she represents, and stated that building projects relating to a number of schools, including that at Glenville, would proceed immediately. The local community, the principal and the board of management of the school were informed that planning for a new school would commence in the immediate future. This commitment was given in writing — I hope it was not an exercise in electioneering — and it indicated that the project to build a new school would proceed. As with Rahan, however, there have been no developments regarding the building of a new school at Glenville. There has not been any indication of progress.

Glenville is situated near Mallow and is a suburb of Cork city. The position as regards accommodation at the national school in Glenville has reached crisis levels. On Friday afternoon last, the parents, pupils and those associated with the school, in conjunction with their counterparts from Passage West on the outskirts of Cork, held a protest march to highlight their plight. The last thing parents and children want to be doing is protesting on the streets. What is required is a commitment to proceed with new school accommodation. Interim solutions such as prefabs are only for the short term.

During my first term in this House in 1987, my very first Adjournment matter related to Rahan national school. It is disappointing to raise the same subject 21 years later and — while we are all glad to be hearty and back here — one would wonder about priorities in capital expenditure and the direction we are taking in education.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response. I appreciate he is not the man in charge of the purse strings but I appeal to him on behalf of both of these rural national schools, which serve growing village-type urban communities. There is a definite need for additional accommodation and I request the Minister of State to ask the Minister for Education and Science — himself a Cork man who knows both of these areas very well — to give the schools fair attention and a response by way of capital investment. This would help parents, teachers and, most of all, pupils, who should be educated in the proper physical environment they deserve in the Ireland of 2008.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Youth Affairs, Department of Health and Children; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for his kind remarks and for raising this matter, as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to this House the Department's capital programme of works for 2008 and the current position with regard to proposed building projects for Rahan national school, Mallow, and Glenville national school in Glenville, County Cork.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the modernisation and policy unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, 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.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need and this is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, with band one being the highest and band four the lowest.

Band one projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exists but there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band four project makes provision for desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities. As the Senator probably will be aware, almost €600 million in public funding is being provided for school buildings this year. This will enable the completion of work on 67 large-scale primary school projects that will deliver 7,000 additional permanent school places in new schools and 2,300 additional permanent school places in existing schools. Construction work on 150 devolved projects under the permanent accommodation scheme will provide 8,000 additional places in existing primary schools.

In the post-primary sector, construction work will be completed on 19 large-scale projects which will provide 2,400 permanent school places in four new schools and additional accommodation and refurbishment works in 15 schools that will benefit more than 7,000 pupil attendees. The purchase of sites will facilitate the smooth delivery of the school building programme, particularly in rapidly developing areas, and the progression of new projects through architectural planning and design stages.

On 1 February last, there was an announcement of the first tranche of projects that will proceed to construction this year. Construction is also due to start in 2008 on the first bundle of PPP schools, while further ones will be offered to the market next year with a view to building work commencing in later years. This is an enormous programme of work by any standards and, while there will continue to be a focus during the year on providing extra places in developing areas, the Department will also deliver improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary school accommodation throughout the country. The emphasis, however, will be on new schools and extensions to provide additionality in rapidly developing areas.

To address the projects of particular concern to the Senator, Glenville national school is a co-educational facility with a current enrolment of 129 pupils. The school has a current staffing of a principal, four mainstream assistants and one learning support and one resource. The school authority submitted an application to the Department of Education and Science for large-scale capital funding for an extension project. The long-term staffing figure, on which accommodation needs will be based, has been determined. In this regard, it has been agreed that accommodation should be provided to cater for a long-term projected staffing of a principal, eight mainstream assistants and appropriate ancillary accommodation.

Rahan national school is also a co-educational primary school with a September 2007 enrolment of 91 pupils. The school has a current staffing of principal, three mainstream class teachers and one permanent learning support and resource teacher. The school has applied for a new school building. The long-term staffing has been agreed at a principal, eight mainstream assistants and appropriate ancillary accommodation.

I am pleased to inform the Senator an application by Rahan national school to replace temporary accommodation this year has been approved by the Department. Both of these projects attract a band two rating. The next step for them is the appointment of a design team. The Minister for Education and Science is currently examining issues relating to funding and other aspects of the multi-annual school building programme. At this stage it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of these projects to the next stage.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter and point out that over the lifetime of the national development plan, the Government is providing funding of €4.5 billion for school buildings. This will be the largest investment programme in schools in the history of the State and will enable the Department to ensure that school places are available where they are needed. This investment will allow the continuation of the school building programme which commenced during the lifetime of the last NDP, when well over €2.6 billion was invested in school development delivering, as it did, more than 7,800 projects.