Tuesday, 14 December 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. Cowley: I support Deputy Hoctor’s comments about the Camphill community. I know of the organisation and the wonderful work it is doing. If the project to which the Deputy referred is helping Camphill, it is worthwhile and I ask the Minister of State to examine it.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Adjournment. I am concerned about Facefield national school, which is located between Ballagh and Claremorris in County Mayo, which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, knows well. The board of management has applied for the school to be included in the small schools pilot initiative last March but has so far heard nothing other than an acknowledgement of its receipt. The board also made an application under the summer works scheme 2005, but has not heard anything about it either.
The school is 112 years old but is in generally good condition for its age due to the splendid and dedicated work of successive boards of management and the teachers in maintaining it over the years. The board of management and parents are not looking for a new school, but rather one which can cope with their needs. They require essential works as a matter of some urgency in order to cope with the space required for the extra activities specified by revised curriculum. The classroom needs to be expanded. The simple and reasonable plan is to build onto one of the classrooms to allow for all the hands-on work to be done which is necessary under the new curriculum.
The school has two classrooms, the second of which is very small. There are 37 children in the school at present, 20 of whom in the higher class are accommodated in one room. Next year, an additional seven children will be enrolled, which will bring the total number of children to 44. Some 24 children will be accommodated in the smaller classroom and 20 children in the higher classes. This represents a great number of children in very small rooms. Therefore, the classroom needs to be extended urgently to cater for the increased numbers.
The school intends to use the space occupied at present by the children’s toilets to enlarge the room to create an adequate classroom. The toilets are badly in need of upgrading as they are of poor quality. To that end, it is proposed to build children’s toilets linked to the classrooms as well as a staff toilet as there is none at present; staff and pupils share the pupils’ toilets, which is not recommended, satisfactory or acceptable. There is no staff room or office in the school. Therefore, it is intended to have a room which will serve as a staff room at break times and an office at other times.
These are reasonable plans for very necessary improvements in the interests of health and safety and in order to provide a better teaching environment for pupils and teachers. It is not too much to look for. Anything less is unacceptable, as is the present situation, which will get worse with the new input of seven pupils next year. These improvements are essential to allow the new curriculum to be taught, to keep up with the times and maintain proper standards of health and safety and give these children from a rural area a proper chance.
The board of management and the teachers are in no doubt that if these repairs are made, the school will be in a sound educational position and provide a strong base for the next 100 years. The board of management is very willing and enthusiastic. It is prepared to take on this project and work in association with the teachers, the pupils and their families. I urge the Minister of State to give those people a chance. They are willing to do so much. This is a new idea the board is prepared to undertake. I urge the Minister of State to deal with this issue urgently.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern): I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the strategy of the Department of Education and Science for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position regarding the application received for improved accommodation at Facefield national school, Claremorris, County Mayo.
The Minister for Education and Science recently outlined details of the school building and modernisation programme. Next year alone, €270 million will be allocated to primary schools and €223 million to post-primary schools for building works, representing an increase of 14% on the 2004 allocation. The programmes supported will include 141 major building projects already on site and a further 28 due to commence in the coming weeks, and details of 75 major primary and 30 major post-primary projects, already at an advanced stage of design, will be authorised to complete the design process in the coming weeks. This will provide a flow of projects to go to construction over the next 12 to 16 months, a further 18 to 20 post-primary schools suitable for inclusion in public-private partnership project bundles and 120 primary schools which will be invited to take part in the small and rural schools initiative and the devolved scheme for providing additional accommodation.
The new Schools Building and Modernisation Programme 2005-2009 will be underpinned not just by a significant increase in overall funding but also by major improvements in the administration of that funding. Devolving more funding to local level through the summer works scheme and the small and rural schools initiative will allow schools to move ahead with smaller projects while also delivering better value for money. Funding for the summer works scheme will be almost doubled to €60 million in 2005 to allow schools to carry out improvement works during the summer holidays. A total of 448 schools benefited from works under this scheme in 2004 at a cost of €31 million.
Last March, the school authority of Facefield national school submitted an application to the Department of Education and Science for the provision of an extension to and refurbishment of the existing school building. This application is being considered in the context of a review of all projects which did not proceed to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. In addition, the management authority of the school recently made an application for the construction of a new toilet block and conversion of existing toilets at the school under the 2005 summer works scheme. This application will be assessed by reference to the relevant criteria outlined in the published documents and it is planned to publish the list of successful applicants early in the new year.
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