Thursday, 25 February 2010
Special Educational Needs
I visited St. Laurence O'Toole's special school in Dublin on Monday morning last. In the course of our work as politicians, we spend some time visiting schools and trying to understand their needs. I have never visited a school which does such important and hard work in such difficult circumstances. This school looks after young men and women who, for different reasons, are not part of our mainstream school system. They are boys and girls who have real difficulties with their behaviour, lifestyles and family circumstances. If these pupils did not have a school to look after them, they would face a tough life with very slim chances. The school does vital work for pupils who do not have anyone to give them the care they need. It is an amazing school doing badly needed work.
I raise this issue because despite the great work being done and the dedication of the teachers in tough circumstances, which I saw on Monday morning, the school has been housed in pre-fabs for a number of years. The school has moved through the stages of the Department's schools building programme. It sought planning permission for a site and school design. Planning permission was granted in 2008. The cost of the project has been approved by the Department and the project is moving through the system.
However, progress has now stopped.
The board of management and the teachers need an update from the Department of Education and Science on where the project stands and a commitment that it will move ahead. I emphasise that they are doing the most difficult work in looking after children who need support and care which they might not be able to get elsewhere. They are working in prefabs and in conditions which are not suitable. They had a glimpse of what the future might look like but it has been removed and they do not know where the project stands. I would like an update from the Minister. I will certainly make a commitment to do all I can to help them, because they need it, and I hope the Government and the Minister will do the same.
Tony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. It provides an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position in regard to St. Laurence O'Toole's special school, Dublin.
The allocation of funding for school buildings in 2010 is just under €579 million. This represents a significant investment in the schools building and modernisation programme. This level of funding at a time of great pressure on public finances is a sign of the Government's commitment to investing in school infrastructure and it will permit the continuation of the Department's programme of sustained investment in primary and post primary schools.
Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
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 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. The original criteria were revised and refined in 2004.
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.
The building project for St. Laurence O'Toole's special school, which is a youth encounter project, has been assigned a band 1.2 rating. The brief for the project is to provide a new school on a site currently owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. Funding for the design and construction phases of the project are being provided entirely by the Department of Education and Science. The project will entail demolition of the existing buildings on the site and the construction of a part two-storey, part three-storey school with the main entrance to the school being from Seville Place.
The project is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning. Planning permission has been secured for the project. Stage 2(a) of architectural planning, which is the developed sketch scheme stage, was approved by the Department in September 2009.
The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands on the funding available under the Department's capital budget. Unfortunately, it was not possible for the Minister to include this project in the recent announcement of 52 major projects to proceed towards tender and construction this year.
The proposed building project for St. Laurence O'Toole's special school will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the delivery of the project at this time.
I thank Senator Donohoe for giving me an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position in regard to the school building project for St. Laurence O'Toole's special school.