Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
114. Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the grants available to primary schools to purchase physical education equipment; the moneys allocated under any such grant scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32702/05]
Ms Hanafin: My Department fully recognises the key role of physical exercise within the school environment and continues to respond to the need to improve PE facilities. The provision of such facilities is an integral part of the design process for new school buildings or where an existing school building is undergoing major refurbishment. New PE equipment such as balancing benches and gym mats are funded as part of any major building programme.
In regard to specific sports equipment grants, my Department has provided in excess of €5.5 million in grant aid to primary schools specifically for this purpose to enable them to provide coaching or mentoring in connection with physical education or to purchase resource materials associated with the provision of physical education. Materials and equipment purchased by schools in previous years will generally be available to them for subsequent years. The question of a further grant will be kept under review.
Schools may use their general capitation funding to support the implementation of curricula, including physical education. Since 1997 the standard rate of capitation grant has been increased from £45 per pupil to €133.58 in the current year, an increase of almost 134% in the period. Also, all primary schools with permanent recognition receive an annual minor works grant from my Department. Each school gets a standard rate of €3,809 plus a per pupil rate of €12.70. Special schools and schools with special classes receive an enhanced per pupil rate of €50.80. It is open to school management authorities to use this devolved grant for the purchase of equipment, including physical education equipment, provided it is not required for more urgent works. My Department also considers applications for additional grant aid for such equipment where schools can demonstrate that the minor works grant funding is insufficient for this purpose.
Ms Enright: The Joint Committee on Education and Science did a report, for which I was rapporteur, on physical education, one of the recommendations of which was that there would be a specific period of specialised funding for PE, similar to that provided for information technology. Has the Minister considered that recommendation? Deputy Sargent tabled a question on promoting a healthy diet in schools. We must accept that part of this must be done in the PE section of the school curriculum. Some primary schools are doing a good job but others do not have the facilities. While the building programme is still under pressure in terms of applications, I cannot foresee a time when only PE buildings will be used for that purpose. In light of the Estimates I ask the Minister to consider a specific period of specialised funding for PE in schools.
Ms Hanafin: I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from. Despite the fact that we are spending almost €500 million this year, stand-alone PE halls are still only a priority four. When one weighs up the needs throughout the country for classrooms, new schools, buildings for special schools, special units and so on, I cannot prioritise stand-alone sports halls any higher. We are building them in the context of new schools and major new extensions.
Equally, where there is any new major extension to primary schools, they get large general purpose areas. A number of schools had to sacrifice their GP room when there was a shortage of classrooms. As their needs are met with extra classrooms, such as the new scheme introduced this year of permanent accommodation where schools have applied for a permanent accommodation grant to add on an extra classroom, they will then be able to retrieve their GP room. For the moment I do not envisage being able to set aside money which would be to the detriment of schools getting classrooms.
Ms Enright: Has the Minister had any formal discussions with her Cabinet colleague in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism with a view to ensuring that if he provides a grant to a club, those facilities would be accessible to a school? I appreciate that is being done on an ad hoc basis but will the Minister have more formal negotiations with her colleague with a view to ensuring a better allocation of resources? Perhaps it could be made mandatory in giving a grant that the facilities would be available to local schools.
Ms Hanafin: I have had a number of discussions with and good co-operation from my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue. In some local areas there is good co-operation between sports clubs and the schools. Where there is not co-operation, there can be terrible enmity and jealousy between schools in the one town. If one school happens to get a new building and a PE hall with it, the other school demands another PE hall. I know of one town where two new schools got two PE halls and now the third school is insisting on a PE hall. There are only 7,000 people in the whole town and yet there is no co-operation between the schools on the issue. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is doing an audit throughout the country on what sporting facilities are available in different towns. We hope to build on that, fill the gaps and ensure co-operation between everybody.
Ms O’Sullivan: I am aware the INTO suggested dual usage facilities. Is there not some way of ensuring co-operation and that there is not competition between schools because it appears to be a good way of maximising use of a facility where schools can have use during the day time and the community at night time? Can the Minister knock heads together with a view to greater co-operation?
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