Tuesday, 6 March 2018
School Accommodation Provision
I thank the Minister, Deputy Bruton, for coming to the House to deal with this important issue.
Doolin national school has 91 students. This is set to increase to 95 next September but I suspect it will be even more. The school has a great principal and team of teachers. I have always been impressed by the school's ethos and the staff's dedication to learning. The principal is out on her own in her dedication to her students and the work she does to develop an interest in learning among them. The school has applied for an additional classroom. This application is not just reasonable and important, but essential and critical. One class with 25 students is in a classroom designed for between 12 and 15 students. This is unacceptable and is a health and safety issue, as well as being unfair to the students and the teachers.
The school has submitted two applications to the Department for funding for an additional classroom.Both applications were submitted in 2017, one in the early part of the year and the other in the latter. I have been making representations relentlessly to the Department for some time on the issue. When we made representations last October, we received an acknowledgement. However, on 8 December we received a letter from the Department stating it had no application on file. Clearly, the information that had come from it was not correct because there was an application on file.
A contract has been signed for a direct provision centre in Lisdoonvarna which is about three or four miles from Doolin national school. I have no doubt that some of the children who will live in the centre will be seeking educational advancement in the school. As September is only a number of months away, the classroom must be built during the summer. Funding must be sanctioned as a top priority based not just on all of the information I have given to date. I have also corresponded with the Department on the critical need for the project which has been amplified even more by the fact that the direct provision centre will be opened in Lisdoonvarna and that Doolin national school may be called upon to assist in meeting the educational needs of the young people who will stay at the centre. I am looking for a commitment from the Minister that the funding required will be provided as a matter of urgency in order that the tender documents can be prepared and the work done during the two-month summer holidays period to enable the classroom to be ready by September.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I apologise to him if the Department wrote to him with false information, as he indicated. There is, of course, an application from the school that was made originally in December 2016. At the time it was made the teacher complement was three mainstream teachers and one special education teacher. At that stage it was determined that there was no deficit of mainstream class accommodation in the school. However, the school was expanding and granted provisional sanction for an additional teaching post which was made conditional on the required enrolment being achieved last September. Having refused it on the grounds that there were just three mainstream teachers in the school, the Department is now in a position where it will review the application because I understand, as the Senator noted, that the school did reach the enrolment threshold of 90 pupils. The Department is reviewing the application in the light of the confirmation of the enrolment figure. Given what the Senator has said, I will ask that the review be accelerated in order that we can have a response for the school as quickly as possible.
It is a welcome acknowledgement by the Minister that the school has reached the number of pupils required for the provision of additional accommodation. What is important, as the Minister will understand, is a timeline because the construction industry is doing exceptionally well and it will not be easy to find a company with a gap in its schedule to do this type of work. It needs to be booked in advance. I appreciate that the Minister will ask his officials to accelerate the review. Perhaps he might also indicate the time bubble at which we are looking for when a decision will actually be made?
To be fair, in dealing with these issues the Department's building unit operates fair criteria and applies the same rules to every school. I will ask for the application to be reviewed in the light of what has been said-----
-----but I cannot give in advance the outcome of a process that is still under way within the Department.I hear what the Senator is saying about the urgency and the prospect that there may be additional enrolment in the school in the future as a result of the new centre being opened. I will bring that to the attention of those conducting the review.