Wednesday, 31 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Neville: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me raise this issue concerning the construction of a new school at Croom. Coláiste Chiarán is a second level school in Croom under the auspices of the County Limerick Vocational Education Committee. There are 580 students attending the college. In the 2006-07 school year, it is predicted that number will increase to 700.
I wish to raise with the Minister of State the fact that up to two thirds of the college’s accommodation is now in prefabricated classrooms. The conditions for teaching and learning are unsuitable for both students and teachers. It is an unacceptable educational environment and I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment to the early commencement of the construction of acceptable accommodation and a new school at Croom. At a time of Exchequer multiple surpluses, the construction of the new school must not be restricted by the usual Department of Finance limitations. I ask the Minister of State to fast forward the construction of the school and stop the discrimination against students and teachers because of the unacceptable conditions.
The school has grown and developed significantly over the past six to seven years and has a reputation for excellent educational standards. It has done so on a temporary accommodation basis. Classroom conditions are overheated in summer and cold in winter. The Minister of State will accept that such conditions are intolerable in 2006.
Coláiste Chiarán is a progressive and dynamic college community with great emphasis put on information and communications technology and innovative teaching methodology. The overall aim is to equip its students with the academic, practical and social skills necessary for success in further education and the workplace. The original vocational school was established in 1938 and the current structure constructed as a first phase of school development in 1986.
Croom village and the catchment area of the college is a vastly expanding community. It is situated approximately ten miles from Limerick city. The advent of the new national primary road from Limerick city and the bypass of Croom has created a very attractive residential area with easy access to the city. The population is growing and with the updating of services to the village, it will mushroom.
While the construction of a new school within the earmarked 18-acre site is urgently required for current student accommodation, it is vital to plan second level educational facilities for the future, taking into consideration population expansion. I understand the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, promised to raise the issue with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, yesterday. Will the Minister brief the House on the outcome and details of that discussion?
A majority percentage of pupils from outside the catchment area were refused their first choice of college within their catchment area. The parents chose Coláiste Chiarán as the best opportunity to maximise the educational opportunity for their children. It is the parents’ right to do this.
The urgent case for a new school in Croom is merited. I urge the Minister to expedite the construction of such a school. It has the full support of the County Limerick Vocational Education Committee and all who see the school as a vastly expanding educational centre in urgent need of acceptable and modern conditions. This will facilitate the present population of the school, as well as the predicted population over the years. I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Miss de Valera): At the outset, I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the position of the Department of Education and Science regarding the proposed developments at post-primary level in Croom, County Limerick.
Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of underinvestment in this area, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and ensure that appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
As evidence of this commitment, there will be in the region of 1,300 building and modernisation projects active in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. Over €500 million is being spent on the primary and post-primary projects throughout the country. This unprecedented level of capital investment is testament to the importance the Government places on improving the quality of accommodation in our schools.
Coláiste Chiarán is the only post-primary school in Croom and is a co-educational provider with a current enrolment of 435 mainstream pupils and 146 students attending post-leaving certificate courses. The school’s accommodation comprises some permanent accommodation and an extensive number of prefabricated buildings provided for the school over the years to address its growing enrolment.
County Limerick VEC has applied to the Department of Education and Science for funding towards the provision of a new school building for Coláiste Chiarán. Given the restricted nature of the existing site, the Department has given approval to County Limerick VEC to purchase a site to facilitate the development of a new replacement school. The next step in the process is the determination of the long-term projected enrolment on which the school’s future accommodation needs will be based. Officials in my Department are currently engaged with the VEC on this issue and factors being examined include the population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments and the likely impact of recent and planned housing developments in the area.
When the long-term projected enrolment has been finalised, schedules of accommodation will be drawn up. The project will then be ready to enter the architectural planning process. The building project will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme for 2006-10.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which allows me to outline the progress being made under the school building and modernisation programme and in particular the position of Coláiste Chiarán in Croom.
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