Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Further Education and Training Colleges
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Leas-Cathaoirleach as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom an cheist seo a ardú ar an Athló. I also thank the Minister of State for being here.
This is an important issue for County Meath as a whole. Dunboyne College of Further Education is the only such college in the entire county, although there is a college of further education in Drogheda and several in Dublin; therefore, the area is reasonably well served. Dunboyne College of Further Education is actually a constituent part of St. Peter's College, Dunboyne and therein lies the difficulty. St. Peter's College is a very large secondary school which is doing a great job in a new building. The college of further education is located in office accommodation in Dunboyne. It is also doing a great job and providing an enormous range of courses, including language, pre-nursing and a full range of post-leaving certificate courses. It is also engaged in link-ups with the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and NUI Maynooth. It does not, however, have independence. There is one principal in charge of the two institutions because they are, in fact, deemed to be one institution with one roll number. This is not satisfactory. The college believes it should have its own roll number, separate access to the Department of Education and Skills and be independent of the secondary school in order that it can provide a real education service for the people of County Meath. It would, in effect, then form an educational triangle with the institute of technology in Blanchardstown and NUI Maynooth. Those involved in the college of further education cannot go anywhere until it separates from the secondary school. The college is seeking independence and its students would be better served if it had that independence. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.
I thank the Senator for raising this Adjournment matter which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn.
The PLC programme is a self-contained whole-time learning experience designed to provide successful participants with specific vocational skills to enhance their prospects of securing lasting, full-time employment or to progress to other studies. It caters for those who have completed senior cycle education, as well as adults who are returning to education and require further vocational education and training in order to enhance their employment prospects. There are 32,688 approved PLC places nationwide. The number of approved PLC places is set at its current level because there is a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers and manage expenditure within the context of overall educational policy and provision. For each approved place, the Department of Education and Skills provides a staffing allocation and non-pay capitation. The majority of PLC places are provided by education and training boards, ETBs, in recognised schools and colleges, with the remainder in voluntary secondary and community and comprehensive schools. Places are allocated to ETBs and other providers on an annual basis following an application process and ETBs are responsible for the further allocation of these places to schools and colleges within their remit.
Dunboyne College of Further Education is part of St. Peter's College, Dunboyne, which is managed by Louth Meath ETB. Louth Meath ETB has an allocation of 1,526 PLC places for the current academic year. Enrolment data indicate that the total PLC enrolment in Louth Meath ETB is 1,809. The only stand-alone PLC college in Louth Meath ETB is Drogheda College of Further Education which has an enrolment of 790 PLC learners. O'Fiaich College, Dundalk has an enrolment of 511 learners, with Dunboyne College of Further Education having 429. The other ETB schools offering PLC places are Beaufort College, Navan, which has 64 learners and St. Oliver's post-primary school, Oldcastle, which has 15. Sanction as a stand-alone PLC college would require additional financial and staffing resources in terms of teacher allocations and management structure, including a principal and other posts of responsibility. In the context of the current budgetary situation, the moratorium on public sector recruitment and the employment control framework, it would be very difficult to provide these resources.
In addition, the Government's medium-term infrastructure and capital investment framework, published on 10 November 2011, sets out the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. To ensure every child has access to a school place, the delivery of major school projects, as well as smaller projects devolved to schools to meet the demographic demands nationally, will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years.
SOLAS, an tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileannathe, the new further education and training authority, is responsible for the integration, co-ordination and funding of the wide range of further education and training programmes available around the country. It is working on a strategy for the development of a unified further education and training sector. This strategy will form a framework for future developments in the sector, including the post-leaving certificate sector.
I am disappointed with this reply. While I do not expect the Minister to announce that the Department will sanction a new building for the college next week, the provision of a separate roll number which would entail appointing a principal is not a significant ask for a college that, as the Department states, officially has 429 students. Unofficially, as I understand it, the college is providing a service for hundreds more students within its departmental financial allocation. It is managing to maintain a good service, taking pressure off the Government which would otherwise be under severe pressure to provide these courses.
The immediate issue is that the school be separated and a principal appointed. There is already a teacher acting as principal who is not being paid for it, despite the fact that the principal of St. Peter’s College is in charge. They are at least a mile away from each other and it is not conducive to good learning. While a new building is required in the medium to long term, the Department should examine the short-term solution of putting a principal in charge to allow the college to grow and develop. I know that the college is looking forward to taking part in SOLAS and bidding for the provision of courses, as well as contributing to the resuscitation of the economy in general.
From what the Senator said, there is terrific work being done in the school with a dedicated staff. It is, however, a question of how we address priorities. The Senator’s request is not unreasonable, but it must fall to be dealt with within the assessment of priorities in the allocation of limited resources. He has made a good case for the school, but it must be seen in the context of the wider work the Government is doing in expanding and improving infrastructure in the years ahead.