Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
707. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to any potential breach of health and safety regulations due to overcrowding at various schools throughout County Kildare at either primary or second level; her plans to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33235/05]
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and to put appropriate safeguards in place.
It is open to school management authorities or individuals to make direct contact with the Health and Safety Authority on matters of concern to them and the Department would not necessarily be aware of such communications. Where they are issued, notifications from the Health and Safety Authority are sent to the management authorities of schools in the first instance.
In practical terms, individual school authorities are best placed to assess the detail of their own health and safety requirements. Provision is built into the school building programme to enable schools address urgent health and safety problems. Primary schools are given an annual allocation, currently amounting to €3,809 plus €12.70 per pupil, under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues relating to school infrastructure.
The summer works scheme was introduced during 2004 which provides capital grants for small scale refurbishment works at primary and post-primary schools. The level of funding that is provided is based on the cost estimate provided by the school’s design team at application stage. Responsibility for the delivery of the projects is entirely devolved out to the schools and their design teams.
The scope of works covered under this scheme is intended to address health and safety issues in all schools as well as improvement works to the existing fabric of the buildings. A total of €31 million was spent in 2004 on 292 primary projects and 158 post-primary projects under this scheme. The 2005 programme provides for 452 primary school projects and 289 post-primary school projects that will be grant-aided at a total cost of circa€70.5 million.
The Department also sets aside a contingency sum each year to deal with emergency works in primary and post-primary schools, including health and safety works. Urgently required health and safety works relating to asbestos removal, radon mitigation or dust extraction may be grant-aided under the remediation programmes operated by the school building section of my Department.
In addition to the summer works scheme, I have made a number of announcements regarding the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme. This year alone, €270 million will be allocated to primary schools and €223 million to post-primary schools for building works. This represents an increase of 14% on the 2004 allocation.
The new Schools Building and Modernisation Programme 2005-2009 will be underpinned not just by a significant increase in overall funding but by major improvements in the administration of the 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 more quickly with smaller projects.
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