Thursday, 31 January 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
For the sake of the Minister of State, I will set out a brief history of the matter I raise. When the greyhound track in Harold's Cross closed, Councillor Mary Freehill and I ran a campaign for the site to become an educational campus for primary and secondary schools. It was always our intention that local children would be able to attend the secondary school rather than have a system drawn up based on postal codes. Unfortunately, what we are starting to see is that local children from Dublin 8 and 12 will be excluded from the secondary school even though they will attend primary school and preschool with their neighbours and friends. On account of a mandatory line drawn on a road, they will be excluded from the secondary school.
In the case of children in Dublin 8, the alternative is an Educate Together school on Beach Road in Sandymount, which is approximately 5 km away. That may as well be 50 km given Dublin traffic. It is almost impossible to shift a child across the city against the natural flow of traffic. It is inhuman to put such pressure on parents and to forcibly break up long-term friendships that develop as children go through primary school by sending them in different directions.
An educational campus will be developed on the Harold's Cross site. Parents and children will be able to walk out their front doors and see this new campus but will be unable to send their children to its schools. That is entirely wrong. It was not the intention of Councillor Mary Freehill, Senator Ivana Bacik or I when we fought the campaign to get a school in the location. We now see parents whose children will go to secondary school in 2020 or 2025 in major distress. This issue affects substantial numbers of children. Up to 150 children leaving Educate Together schools will not have an opportunity to continue friendships and partnerships with children with whom they started in junior infants class. It is a disgrace.
I have been raising the matter in this House since 2017 and it needs to be addressed. It greatly affects the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Byrne, who was here just now. It is not a Dáil constituency issue. It is a human issue and we have to find a solution to it.
I call on the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, to raise this matter with the Minister for Education and Skills. The Minister should sit down and talk because we need to find a solution now. The alternative for these parents is to send their children to fee-paying schools. There are no other schools in the area that provide co-educational multidenominational education at secondary level. In this day and age, we should not be trying to force parents to choose fee-paying schools. Parents will sacrifice everything they can for their children, but we should not ask them to make this particular sacrifice, especially when we are developing a 1,000 pupil campus in Harold's Cross. I appeal to the Minister of State to make the case strongly. We have to keep communities together. We have to give lifelong friendships that develop in schools a chance for the good of the children and the community. I am calling for this issue to be looked at closely.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. It gives me the opportunity to set out to Seanad Éireann the position with regard to the new post-primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Dublin 6, Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W school planning areas.
To plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data the Department of Education and Skills divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, which uses data from a range of sources to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. Where data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision may be provided through one or a combination of the following measures: utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools; or the provision of a new school or schools.
All new schools established since 2011 to meet demographic demand are required to prioritise pupil applications from within the designated school planning area that the school was established to serve. This does not preclude schools from enrolling pupils from outside the designated school planning area where they have sufficient places. Rather, it reflects the need to accommodate in the first instance the demographic for which the school was established. The Department's priority is ensuring all pupils have access to a school place although, unfortunately, this may not always result in a school place that is the first choice of a pupil.
As the Senator is aware, in April 2018 the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools in the four years from 2019 to 2022, including a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Dublin 6, Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W school planning areas as a regional solution. The announcement included a new 600 pupil post-primary school to be established in 2021 to serve the Dublin 2 and 4 school planning areas, which are adjacent to the Dublin 8 school planning area. In addition, the Senator is aware that in 2018 a new 1,000 pupil co-educational multidenominational school under the patronage of Educate Together was established to serve the Dublin 6 school planning area, along with the Dublin 2, 4, 6 and Clonskeagh school planning areas as a regional solution. These schools will further reduce pressure on schools in the adjacent school planning areas, including those in the Dublin 8 and 12 areas.
In addition to the new schools announced, a need for further school accommodation is addressed through either planned capacity increases in existing schools, additional accommodation or extensions to existing schools. Approximately 40% of school places are delivered by extending existing schools.
I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position with regard to the new post-primary school to be established in 2020. I will put the matter more succinctly. While a school may be established on the basis of those demographics, there is nothing precluding someone from attending the school. That is the position nationally and it is the way it should be. Parents and pupils require choice. I am in agreement with Senator Humphreys that choice should not be excluded because of a line on a map that is imaginary. Perhaps it is not imaginary, but it has been drawn for a demographic reason.
I am very disappointed with the answer. For two years now, parliamentary questions have been asked about this matter and I have raised it in the House on many occasions, as has Senator Ivana Bacik. The system of postal codes is not the proper way to decide on demographics. It simply does not work in this case. The Minister of State referred to creating options for children in Dublin 8 and 12 and reducing demand. There is no option. There are private school options but if a person wants a particular type of education, for example, multidenominational and co-educational, then the only choices are private schools in those areas. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to break up lifelong friendships that children are developing in schools or to tell a child that he or she has to travel 5 km in heavily polluted traffic for over an hour to the Sandymount Educate Together school. Those are not real options.
What is very clear is that we are trying to get one size to fit all, but it does not work that way in Dublin. Some children who will be able to see the secondary school in Harold's Cross when they walk out their front door will be asked to travel for one hour to an alternative school. That is not an option.
We will not resolve this issue in a discussion in this House because I will get more angry by the minute and the Minister of State will not understand why this is such an emotional issue. I ask the Minister of State to request the Minister for Education and Skills to meet the Educate Together group in Harold's Cross and discuss this matter in a calm and rational manner. The facts stand up. There is a need for access to the second level school in Harold's Cross for students from Dublin 8 and 12 and the surrounding areas. Let us have a proper discussion. We had such a discussion when the Shellybanks Educate Together primary school was established. We were able to have such a discussion when we fought for an educational campus on the Harold's Cross greyhound site. Now is not the time to exclude children from a school that they can see practically from their front doors.
I reiterate my request to the Minister of State to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to meet the Educate Together group in Harold's Cross to see whether together they can resolve this matter in a practical manner that gives confidence to parents that there will be places in secondary schools for their children when they leave primary school. Parents make decisions now, not next week or next month. They have to make a decision on where they will send their child to school in September and how that child will progress through primary school and into secondary school. Parents are deciding that they want co-educational multidenominational schools and we have a responsibility, as legislators, to ensure that option is available to them.