Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Department of Education and Skills
Question 206: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will consider directing that all schools funded by the State where practicable make the school premises and halls available to local communities in the evening time and at weekends and during the long holiday periods; if he will address the difficulties to be overcome relating to insurance and that a caretaker has to be present at all times as surely these matters can be addressed and a valuable community resource can be made available to local residents, organisations and youth groups as is the practice in other European countries; his views on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17556/11]
I wish to advise the Deputy that the primary responsibility of my Department in this area is the provision of school facilities for the effective delivery of the curriculum. In addition, the Deputy might note that school authorities have a considerable degree of autonomy in relation to how their premises are managed and utilised at local level.
However, I do recognise that there is a lack of recreational facilities for community use in certain areas which could be met if school premises were made available to the wider community. To encourage schools in this respect, my Department issued a circular to Trustees, Boards of Management and Principals of Primary and Voluntary Secondary Schools in March 2005 urging Trustees and Boards of Management to make their facilities available where possible for community education and recreation purposes.
Decisions in relation to the use of school facilities remain entirely at the discretion of the school authorities, subject to the condition that the needs of the students attending the school are prioritised in the first instance.
My Department has also progressed a number of school building projects within the Fingal County area of Dublin with the Local Authority and Developers to produce an integrated solution to education and community facilities that matches the delivery of new housing. I believe this model can be used to advantage across the country in future particularly in the area of shared community facilities.
My Department's position generally is that the availability of such facilities should be self-funding i.e. adequate to cover the heat/light/caretaking arrangements as well as making some contribution to the repair of wear and tear on premises caused by increased use. Of utmost importance, schools should ensure that insurance and security are covered as it is unlikely that the school's insurance policy would cover non-school activities or that a caretaker would be routinely available to open/lock up premises.