Thursday, 18 December 2014
I have previously raised the issue of Mol an Oige Steiner national school, Ennistymon, County Clare which has been in existence for a number of years. When it started off, it was granted temporary recognition by the Department of Education and Skills. During the years the number of students has grown and standards in the school, to the best of my knowledge from speaking to parents, teachers and others, are very high. The school has applied and met all of the criteria necessary to be met for permanent recognition, but, for some reason, the Department is not prepared to grant it. There seems to be one hurdle which it does not seem to be able to get over. The bottom line is that there are in excess of 100 young students attending the school, probably a far greater number than the numbers attending many other national schools in the area, yet it does not have the permanent recognition it requires in order to build a new premises and move forward in an environment which is stable, assured, permanent and secure.
At this stage, the school has earned its stripes. It has done what is necessary and met all of the stringent criteria laid down by the Department. I have been advised by the school principal that in all of the paperwork required every box has been ticked, that every "t" has been crossed and every "i" has been dotted to an exhaustive degree. There comes a point when one has to say fair play needs to prevail. Given its history which is relatively recent but significant and length of service, it appears the school has done all that is required of it. A vote of confidence in what it is doing for the community and its students is necessary from the Government and the Department in order to allow it to move forward in an assured and a secure environment.
I appreciate that the Minister of State is present on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills. If she cannot confirm that permanent recognition will be granted, I hope she might give me a specific timeline to indicate when it will happen because, as far as Mol an Oige Steiner national school is concerned, it has played its part and now it is up to the Minister to play hers.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter which, as he said, I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. It provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position on the recognition process for Mol an Oige Steiner national school, Ennistymon, County Clare.
As the Senator will be aware, Mol an Oige Steiner national school which implements the Steiner approach to education was initially awarded provisional recognition in 2008, based on written agreement from the school patron, Lifeways (Ireland) Limited, to a number of undertakings. This provisional recognition was extended year by year until October 2012 when a three year extension was granted. A process is in place in which the issue of permanent recognition for the school is being considered. This process is based on the school's progress in fulfilling the undertakings supplied by the school's patron to meet permanent recognition criteria in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998 and the rules for national schools. All recognised schools, regardless of their philosophy or ethos, are required to comply with the Education Act 1998 and the rules for national schools. Permanent recognition is contingent on schools demonstrating that they meet these requirements satisfactorily.
Following the formal evaluation conducted by the departmental inspectorate of the work of the school, the school was invited, as part of the process, to supply a school response. This response was received from the school in October. I advise the Senator that the formal evaluation conducted by the departmental inspectorate forms only part of the recognition process. The undertakings in respect of other school governance matters must also be verified.
The Department has recently received a response from the school authority in relation to the school governance undertakings which is currently being considered in conjunction with the advice received from the inspectorate. The Department expects to be in a position to finalise its consideration shortly.
I wish to thank the Senator again for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position in regard to the recognition process for Mol an Óige Steiner national school, County Clare.