Tuesday, 18 February 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Deenihan: Coláiste Pheig Sayers Teo. applied in May 1991 to the Department of Education for recognition of a Coláiste Samhraidh in Baile an Lochaigh, Baile na nGall. The college at Baile an Lochaigh is already built at the owners cost, with the help of an AIB mortgage on a site that was provided free of charge. There are no plans, nor indeed is it the intention of the owners, to seek any public funding for the £25,000 construction costs. The board of Coláiste Pheig Sayers Teo. went ahead with the building following assurances from the Minister for Education, Deputy Davern, that there would be no problem regarding recognition. Most of the students who stay in and around the Baile an Lochaigh area would be within walking distance of this new coláiste which I understand is the only purpose-built coláiste samhaidh in the west Kerry Gaeltacht. It would be senseless to bus students past the door of an empty building in Baile an Lochaigh to a less suitable building in Ballyferriter, nine miles away. It would mean that the facilities in Ballyferriter would be stretched to the limit to cope with students from both Baile an Lochaigh and Ballyferriter, all, incidentally, being students of Coláiste Pheig Sayers.
One of the big problems with Irish colleges is lack of classroom accommodation and proper facilities and that ranges from Donegal to west Kerry. In west Kerry classes have been held in garages, changing rooms, factories, community halls and so on. Coláiste Pheig Sayers have had to use disused Údarás na Gaeltachta factories for classes. The lands at Baile an Lochaigh are comprised of 19 acres, which gives ample room to develop playing fields, tennis courts and  so on, if the school authorities get recognition from the Department of Education.
Since 1988, attendance at Coláiste Pheig Sayers Teo. has increased from 40 pupils to 400 in 1991. This is an indication of the quality of its courses and the emphasis on high standards. I would remind the Minister that this college which is already built has full planning permission from Kerry County Council and has the backing of all the people in the parish. In order for Coláiste Pheig Sayers to function effectively and to get a fair crack of the whip the authorities need this recognition as a matter of urgency.
I wish to mention precedents for Irish colleges being sited within yards of each other — in the seventies in Cape Clear Island; in the eighties Coláiste Chiaráin and Coláiste Cholumba in An Cheathrú Rua and in 1991 in Ballyferriter itself. Minister, please have this college recognised just for the sake of the Irish language.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Aylward): As was indicated in reply to the Deputy's question last Thursday, proposals received for the establishment of the college referred to have not been sanctioned by my Department as the area in question is considered to be adequately served by Irish colleges already. This decision was taken after full consideration of the proposal by my Department's inspectorate, who advise on the operation of the scheme under which my Department pay grants in respect of summer courses held in accordance with the terms of the scheme in recognised Irish colleges.
In administering this scheme, in particular in relation to the establishment of new colleges or the extension of existing colleges into new areas, my Department must take account of the position of colleges already operating in those areas. It would not be in the best interests of the colleges, or of the people of the Gaeltacht areas in which they operate, many of whom derive great economic benefit from the operation of such colleges, if my Department did not seek to regulate the  development of the scheme. For this reason, my Department have decided that in future, recognition will not be given to the establishment of new Irish colleges in cases where it is considered that there is already adequate provision.
I should, however, point out that this does not mean that my Department are unwilling to consider any applications for extension of the network of recognised colleges. Indeed, the recognition granted to Coláiste Pheig Sayers in 1988 to operate in Dún Chaoin and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh is an example of my Department's approval of proposals beneficial to an area which was previously under-provided for.
Undoubtedly the period leading up to the leaving certificate is the most traumatic period in any student's life in that the results of one's leaving certifiate examination effectively dictate one's future career and employment prospects. No other examination in later life has the same overbearing consequences. In the light of that, the decision of the Department of Education to force certain pupils, pursuring certain course options, to sit three examinations, each of three hours' duration, consecutively, in one day, is unfair and will seriously jeopardise their future career prospects.
Over last weekend the cases of two pupils in a secondary school in my constituency were brought to my attention by their parents and school principals. I have already given the Minister personal details of these cases but, for the purposes of the record, I want to outline them. Pupils pursuing the following course options, namely, Spanish, technical drawing and chemistry, under current arrangements will be obliged to sit these three-hours examinations consecutively on the same day; this day will constitute half of the entire leaving certificate as six subjects only are considered  when calculating results for third level education entry requirements.
The two pupils concerned are both pursuing higher level papers in all three subjects. I ask the Minister: is this a fair arrangement? These pupils will have spent the preceding two years preparing for this examination and surely deserve a better deal. I contend this log jam should have been forseen.
I understand there is a difficulty because two subjects — Italian and Art — clash. Although I do not have personal details of individual pupils concerned in similar log-jamming fixtures, I appeal to the Minister to investigate this serious problem. No pupil sitting the leaving certificate examination, which will decide his or her future destiny, should be forced to work under such extreme pressure.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Aylward): Considerable thought is given each year to the scheduling of subjects within the timetable of the certificate examinations. Special account is taken of the number of candidates taking each subject and of previous cases where there has been a clash of subjects.
At the same time, by long standing agreement with the school authorities, the examination period may not exceed 13 days. The reasons for this agreement relate mainly to the length of the school year and a common desire to keep the overall examination period from being excessively long. Other factors which must be taken into account include the time necessary to mark candidates' scripts and the need to have results issued to schools at the earliest possible date.
Given those constraints and the range of subjects which must be examined, it is inevitable that each year a number of the smaller subjects will be scheduled for the same day. No change can be effected in  the examinations' timetable for 1992 at this point.
Mr. Aylward: I might add that, where a candidate has to sit more than two examinations in one day, this will be brought to the attention of the examiners involved. The number of candidates so involved is very small: for example, on 22 June a total of ten candidates are entered for more than two examinations and on 23 June a total of 15 candidates are entered for more than two examinations.
In view of the Deputy's interest I am prepared to raise the matter again with my Department since I and anybody who has sat any examination will readily appreciate the trauma involved in sitting more than one examination on any one day. I should like to discuss the matter further with the Deputy later in the week.
I raise this matter this evening as a result of a report in the national newspapers of 11 February following a decision on the part of the former Minister for Education, Deputy Noel Davern, to allocate a sum of the order of £20 million for second level school building projects, when, to the dismay and shock of the people of Mountmellick, there was no mention of the Mountmellick community school or of the need to have urgent repairs carried out thereto.
I might refer the Minister of State to a debate in this House on 23 May 1991 Official Report, Volume 418, No. 9, when I raised the matter with the former Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, who stated, in the course of a reply to me  that “obviously the urgent work will have to be done”.
I say to the new Minister for Education that this work must be undertaken in 1992. Everybody accepts the urgency of the work in the form of roof repairs, the provision and installation of a central heating system and the necessary equipment to allow the courses in the various classes to be conducted in accordance with the school curriculum. These works are long overdue in what is a well recognised, long established, second level school, now a modern community school.
I ask the Minister to reassure the people of north County Laois and parents in the Mountmellick area that these works will be carried out in 1992, notwithstanding the body blow delivered by former Minister Davern in totally omitting these urgent necessary works.
Mr. Aylward: I am aware of the urgent need for improvements at Mountmellick community school and plans and specifications have been prepared for carrying out these repairs and renovations. Departmental consultants are at present examining applications from interested contractors wishing to tender for this work. Pending receipt and examination of the consultants' report I am not in a position to indicate when it will be possible to have the work commence.
The position regarding equipment is that since 1990, £105,414 were spent on the acquisition of new equipment to complement existing resources at Mountmellick community school. A proposal for additional equipment is at present being evaluated by my Department in respect of which the Deputy will be notified of the decision taken as soon as possible.
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