Written answers

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Department of Education and Skills

School Patronage

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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91. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans for Gaelcholáistí and non-denominational secondary schools in the south County Dublin area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15244/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to advise the Deputy that new schools are established by the Department on the basis of identified demographic demand in an area, and after consideration of the capacity of existing schools to absorb the expected school place demand.

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, using data from a range of sources, including Child Benefit and school enrolment data, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise and where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level.

Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, the Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date information on significant new residential development in each area.

The Department additionally consults with school patron bodies in order to identify areas with pressures on enrolments.

Where demographic data indicates that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, be provided through:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools,

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools,

- Provision of a new school or schools.

In addition to ongoing demographic analyses, the Department continues to liaise with Local Authorities in respect of potential longer-term requirements for educational provision across the country, through the review of the County Development Plans, preparation of Local Area Plans and other relevant statutory planning processes.

A patronage process is run after it has been decided, based on demographic analysis, that a new school is required. The patronage process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. The Online Patronage Process System (OPPS) has been developed by my Department to provide objective information to parents which will allow them to make an informed choice about their preferred model of patronage as well as language of instruction, i.e. Irish or English, of new schools. Parental preferences, as well as other considerations such as the extent of diversity of provision in an area (including Irish-medium provision), are key to the decision-making process and to whether at post-primary level a school would take the form of an Irish-medium Gaelcholáiste or whether, if English-medium, the school would include an Irish-medium unit or “Aonad”.

Most new post-primary schools must have a student enrolment capacity of 600 – 1,000 students. A lower threshold of 400 students may apply to Gaelcholáistí, having regard to the alternative of establishing an Aonad within a school.

While it is expected that the existing Gaelcholáistí in the South Dublin area between them have sufficient school places to accommodate the level of demand identified as part of the recent patronage processes in the short term, given the number of new gaelscoileanna which have opened in recent years or are planned to open in this area, my Department is keeping the position under active review as these schools grow and the number of sixth class pupils in gaelscoileanna increases.


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