Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

2:30 pm

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing this important Commencement matter before the Seanad. I am raising an issue relating to a school in Innishannon, a small village between Bandon and Cork city that has seen significant growth in recent years. This village has seen significant numbers come into the area. We are trying to ensure this school can develop and that the entire campus or site can develop in an appropriate way.

In the past six months the school has received planning permission from Cork County Council for two classrooms on the site, both of which would be 80 sq. m classrooms. First, the Department of Education and Skills granted approval for the building of one of these classrooms. Then, last week, the Department granted another approval for the school to build a special education teaching unit as well. This would be a 15 sq. m room.

To me it does not make logical sense to provide for a situation whereby we will spend money on building this new unit. We have no planning permission for it. We have planning permission for two classrooms. We were allowed to build one and now we have been given approval to build a smaller one.

The school is looking for a logical solution that would allow it to build the two rooms for which it received planning permission. The money involved is small. The school has been granted €34,000 for the small 15 sq. m room. A further €100,000 would ensure the two classrooms would be built appropriately. This is basic common sense in many ways and it suits the practical dynamics of the site. This school will develop further because it has developed over the years.Another classroom will be needed in time. It does not make logical sense that the Department of Education and Skills should provide €35,000 for a 15 sq. m classroom when planning is in place for an 80 sq. m classroom. We need to have a vision for the school in terms of where it is going to go.

The Department should examine the landscape of the school's location and consider the logical suggestion that it should build both classrooms. If the Department builds both classrooms, it will mean that the school has a long-term focus. It does not make sense to build one and then the other, and then build an add-on in between. That does not make sense for the State. The school has been granted €34,000 for a 15 sq. m classroom. An extra €100,000 would mean the school would have an 80 sq. m classroom. That is the appropriate size.

I realise this is not the domain of the Minister, Deputy Zappone. However, it is an issue the Minister for Education and Skills may have to consider in the next number of weeks in order that we have a logical solution to a very practical issue. The classrooms need to be built. There is approval for one. Let us build two and plan for the future.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I thank Senator Lombard. I offer him this response on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton. It provides me with an opportunity to clarify the position of the Department of Education and Skills in regard to the accommodation needs of Scoil Eoin in Innishannon, County Cork.

The Senator is aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years, including in the Cork area. In that regard, the six-year construction programme aims to prioritise new building projects and major extensions, including special schools in areas where demographic need has been established. In addition, the capital programme provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms in schools, including special schools, where an immediate accommodation requirement has been identified or an additional teacher has been appointed. It is open to schools to apply for funding for additional classroom accommodation where required.

The Senator will be aware that Scoil Eoin is a co-educational Catholic ethos primary school catering for boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. The staffing at the school for 2017 will be one principal, 11 mainstream class teachers and four special education posts. The enrolment in Scoil Eoin is 295 pupils, reflecting a 6% increase in enrolment over the past five years.

Scoil Eoin submitted an application to the Department of Education and Skills in December 2015, seeking two additional mainstream classes, as the Senator has pointed out. Approval was granted for the provision of one mainstream classroom. This approval was to address the mainstream classroom accommodation deficit that would prevail with the appointment of an additional mainstream teacher from September 2016.

The school subsequently submitted a further application to the Department in March 2017 for the provision of an additional mainstream classroom. The application was assessed by the Department of Education and Skills and it was determined there was no deficit of mainstream classroom accommodation at the school. The Department determined, however, that in light of the special education teaching hours at the school there was a deficit of special education teaching accommodation.

It is in that context that the Department of Education and Skills approved an additional special education teaching room for the school in addition to the mainstream classroom previously approved. The decision was recently conveyed to the school. I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I can confirm the Department's commitment to progressing the devolved building project in the case of Scoil Eoin.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I do not think there is a need for a supplementary question. The Minister has-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I will be very brief. The last page of the statement says it all. There is planning permission for two classrooms, but planning permission must now be sought for a small classroom. It does not make practical or logical sense. That is the argument I am trying to get across. I ask the Minister to relay that comment to the Minister for Education and Skills. It is an issue which can be sorted out quite simply because it is a very practical issue. There is planning permission for an 80 sq. m classroom. We need to build it as otherwise the process will be delayed.