Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

6:00 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and I am pleased he has an official with him. Am I correct?

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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No, he is leaving.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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This is a major issue which concerns the lack of school places at Calasanctius College, Oranmore, which is causing major upset among parents in the parish and the wider catchment area the school serves. On behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, will the Minister of State verify the timeframe for delivery of the recommended Department of Education and Science extension for Calasanctius College? This was recommended in a 2007 report compiled by the Commission on School Accommodation on requirements in south Galway for the Department. The purpose of the extension is to accommodate the applicant pupils included in category 1 of the school's admission policy from the local primary schools in 2010 and 2011.

I will paint a picture for the Minister of State. In December 2009 I became aware that at the close of the enrolment period for September 2010, there were 283 applications — 190 in category 1, 15 in category 2 and 78 in category 3. The school could only offer 140 places. Immediately, 50 pupils in the most deserving category, according to the school's policy, were excluded. The school board of management reviewed the situation and offered a further ten places. Forty pupils from category 1 were then without school places. I spoke to the principal today, given that some pupils will apply to other schools. As of today, 9 February, 23 category 1 pupils still have no place for September 2010. Some of these pupils are from Oranmore boys' national school, while others are from Carnmore national school, only about two or three miles away, and Clarinbridge national school, about another two miles away.

The problem is there is a burgeoning population as a result of extensive housing development and no forward planning for the provision of secondary school places. However, a warning shot was fired. In 2007 the Minister of State's Department saw a need for this extension when it stated Calasanctius College should grow to be an 800-pupil school. The college was opened in 2006 as a state-of-the-art, beautiful 625 pupil school. The day it was opened it was under-capacity but who would blame any board of management for proceeding and advise that the school should not have been delivered because, as the Minister of State well knows, otherwise it might never have been provided? There are currently 733 pupils being housed in the school.

The most significant issue now is that there is not an adequate number of places for the most deserving pupils from the local parish and local feeder schools. The board of management is due to meet officials from the Department on 22 February. I have also requested a meeting with the Minister as soon as possible for the parents of pupils in the local parish and the local feeder schools. I ask the Minister of State to sanction, as a matter of urgency, the provision of extra accommodation immediately. Ideally, it should be permanent accommodation. Prior to the provision of the new building in 2006, the school was housed in decrepit prefabs and it is loath to see a repeat. I am speaking on behalf of the entire school community when I ask the Minister of State to sanction the provision of temporary accommodation with the proviso that permanent accommodation will be provided within two years, by September 2012 at the latest.

I will give some further background information to show how pressing the problem has become. In 2010 the seven feeder schools will have in excess of 200 pupils. According to school policy, they will deserve places but the school will only be able to accommodate 150 of them. In both 2011 and 2012 the numbers in the feeder schools will be in excess of 200. Pupils and parents have already been informed that the school is over-subscribed for enrolment in September 2011. The school has not yet had a chance to classify all of the applicants into categories 1, 2 and 3.

I ask the Minister of State to consider this serious problem. I am advising parents in the area that children in category 1 who are now being denied a place should expect to given a place by 1 September. I am sure, like me, the Minister of State wants to prevent a queue of parents outside Calasanctius College in Oranmore on 1 September looking for places for entry the following year; it could be a case of dog eat dog. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment Matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity of outlining to the Seanad the Department's position on the provision of an extension at Calasanctius College, County Galway. As she will be aware, a new building for the college was opened in 2006 to cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 625 pupils. A further major capital project application was received from the school in 2007. The application is for an extension and major refurbishment on the basis of increasing enrolments. The proposed project is to include the following: new practical rooms; student canteen; general purpose area; guidance counsellor's room; general classrooms to replace existing prefabs and appropriate ancillary accommodation.

As the Senator will be aware, all applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building 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. 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, of which band 1 is the highest and band 4, the lowest. Band 1 projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where there is none currently but there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band 4 project makes provision for desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities. Each band rating has a number of sub-categories which more specifically describe the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them. Documents explaining the band rating system are also available on my Department's website. The Calasanctius College application was assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria and assigned a band rating of 2.5.

The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme. However, in view of the level of demand on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project in question at this time. It is noted, however, that Scoil Mhuire, Oranmore, has agreed to extend the existing temporary accommodation arrangements with Calasanctius College for another three years. In the meantime, it is open to the school authorities to apply for temporary accommodation to meet any immediate accommodation needs that might arise. All applications for such additional accommodation are subject to a full and thorough assessment process. As part of the assessment process, the rental of a prefabricated classroom, the purchase of a prefabricated classroom and the building of a permanent structure are all considered as possible solutions in addressing a school's accommodation issues. Furthermore, last week officials in the planning and building unit of the Department arranged to meet the representatives of the school.

I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position on the proposed extension for Calasanctius College.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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I will allow just one supplementary question.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I am very concerned about the band rating of 2.5 assigned to the school, as clearly this is wrong. The Minister of State is denying the recommendations made in the Department's own report on school accommodation needs in south Galway, including Calasanctius College. Not only does it state capacity at Calasanctius College should grow to 800 pupils by 2012, it also states it needs this accommodation in 2010. It further recommends that there should be another school in Kinvara serving the areas of Clarinbridge and Oranmore. How can we have the band rating of 2.5 changed to band 1? The priority of need is pressing in this case. Calasanctius College is unable to meet the needs of either the parish, the catchment area or its feeder schools. Therefore, it is in crisis.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The application from the college was assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria and assigned a band rating of 2.5. The band rating was awarded, having regard to the published prioritisation criteria which were agreed with the education partners. These matters are kept under review on an ongoing basis.