Seanad debates

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

2:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Alex White, to the House.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to provide an update on the Department's review of the post-primary school places that will be required from 2017 onwards, specifically concerning Newbridge and south Kildare. When is it expected that the review will be completed? A colleague of mine asked me to raise this issue. Today, we will announce the Government's capital spending plans for the remainder of the decade and our spending plans for education are vital. It is important that we continue to invest in education, expand choice and end the era of Fianna Fáil flat-pack prefab schools. It is also important that we get the future development of the sector right and ensure such mistakes are not made again. Will the Minister provide an update on the review of the post-primary school places that will be required from 2017 onwards? A specific concern has been brought to my attention with regard to Newbridge and south Kildare. I would like a specific timeline for the completion of the review.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter and I will respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. I welcome the opportunity to set out the position on the Minister's behalf with regard to the Department's review of the post-primary school places that will be required from 2017 onwards.

Due to unprecedented demographic growth, 27 new primary schools and 26 new post-primary schools will be established, or will be in the process of being established, between the years 2011 and 2016. The purpose of each of these schools is to meet a specific demographic need within a defined geographic area, that is, to ensure that every child and young person living in a particular area can have access to a physical school place within that area.

The Department uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where the pressure for school places will arise. The GIS uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Department of Social Protection in addition to the Department’s own databases. It also uses data from the local authorities. With this information the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary level to determine where additional school accommodation is needed.

The Department is in the process of concluding a report on the outcome of an exercise to determine where additional post-primary school accommodation will be needed from 2017 onwards. The demographic exercise encompassed all areas of the country, including Newbridge and Kildare. The Minister will shortly announce the details of the new post-primary schools to be provided nationwide arising from this exercise.Arrangements will also be made to provide additional post-primary accommodation to existing schools where the demographic demand warrants this.

Where new schools are to be established, the Department runs an open patronage determination process to decide who will operate the schools. It is open to all patrons and prospective patrons to apply under this process.

More than €2.2 billion in funding is being invested by my Department under its five year school capital investment plan 2012-2016. In excess of €1.5 billion of this is being allocated for the funding of major school building projects. The balance is being used for the additional accommodation scheme, the prefab replacement initiative, the emergency works scheme and the acquisition of sites. Full details of all projects both planned and ongoing are published on the Department’s website.

Earlier this year the Minister announced that seven new primary schools will be established in the next two years to meet demographic needs in different areas of the country. Nine new post-primary schools will open over the same period. This includes a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school, Celbridge community school, which opened in interim accommodation this September 2015. A new 1,000 pupil post-primary school, Maynooth community college, opened in 2014. Both of these projects are on the five-year plan, as is a replacement school building for the existing Maynooth post-primary school. Planning is also under way on the next five-year school capital investment plan.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. My only question, which I doubt the Minister will be able to answer, is how he defines the word "shortly" when it comes to the report being compiled? Is it today, this month or this decade? That word is vague in terms of an answer, but I appreciate the comprehensive nature of the rest of the information in the reply.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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I appreciate what the Senator says about "shortly". It is a sort of term of art in Government, but I understand from the Minister that this work is ongoing, as I stated in the response, and that she intends expediting this as soon as possible. There is no question of it amounting to a period of years. I would hope it will be in the coming period. Obviously, the announcements to be made today in the context of the capital programme are relevant also in terms of the funding that will be available for this critically important agenda.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue. If I can assist her in any way, in contact with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, I will certainly do that.