Wednesday, 27 February 2002
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Connor: I wish to raise the case of Ballyleague national school, County Roscommon. The school was constructed in 1955 so it is 47 years old. The staff and the board of management of the school have acted in an exemplary fashion, particularly in recent years, in their efforts to maintain the interior and exterior of the building. A building of this age requires an increasing amount of maintenance and this work has been achieved with the assistance of the parents' support group.
The board of management, the parents' support group, the INTO and anyone who has seen the interior or exterior of the school will agree that the building is seriously substandard and requires complete renovation for several reasons. The school has two special needs pupils who are currently being taught by the resource teacher in a cloakroom which measures 4 sq.m. There is no other facility available in the school for those children or their teacher. The board of management, the parents' support group, the INTO and the Department of Education and Science agree these conditions are totally detrimental to the confidence and self-esteem of special needs pupils.
The learning support teacher responsible for pupils with normal remediation needs works in the remaining cloakroom which also measures 4 sq. m. The learning support programme and special resource programme are, therefore, based in cloakrooms as the concerned parties said. I consider that an absolute disgrace and no doubt the Minister's officials would concur.
In addition, children are being educated in an outdated prefabricated building erected in the school yard in 1972, some 30 years ago. This building, which has been patched and repaired over the years, needs complete refurbishment. My belief is that it should be disposed of because it is no longer able to resist rain or wind. It also has very defective wiring, making it a dangerous building. The pupils in the prefabricated building have access only to outside toilets. The existing classrooms in the main building do not comply with primary school guidelines as laid down by the Department of Education and Science. The two main classrooms fall far short of the recommended 76 sq. m. They are completely overcrowded, there is no wet play area, there is a lack of storage space and no conduit wiring for computer networking. The revised school curriculum plan, upon which the Department of Education and Science and all parties interested in primary education placed a great deal of emphasis, cannot be implemented in this school. Its implementation is currently very severely restricted by the manner in which teaching is carried on.
The entrance corridor which houses the school library and cloakroom area is a fire safety hazard. The toilet facilities, which are of 1960s vintage, are totally antiquated. The floors are hazardous and slippery. They do not have the type of non-slip flooring which is standard everywhere nowadays. There are no proper hot and cold water facilities. Where there is hot water, there are no anti-scald devices and there are no facilities for  the disabled. There is also no shower in the school. All these things are recommended as a minimum by the Department of Education and Science's primary school guidelines. There is no staff room, no administration area, no multi-purpose room and no resource or general purpose room. Teachers have to exist in one of the classrooms.
Nobody knows the background of Ballyleague better than the Cathaoirleach who has represented that area for many years. Ballyleague is one of the most rapidly growing areas in County Roscommon. It is an area in which Bord na Móna operates peat harvesting for successful peat burning stations. A new power station promised for the area will substantially increase employment. The Minister may say this area has a falling population, but I wish to contradict him. Ballyleague national school is suffering because of a lack of facilities. A nearby school in Clontuskert is already overcrowded because parents are opting to send their children there. There are better facilities in the school in Lanesboro and parents are also opting to send their children there. The average is not falling in the catchment area. Children are simply opting to leave Ballyleague national school.
I appeal to the Minister of State to give a positive reply in relation to this school. Of the worst 80 schools in the country, this is, according to the INTO, one of the worst as it is number four on that list.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): I am glad the Senator has given me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position of the Department of Education and Science regarding the provision of improved accommodation at Ballyleague national school.
The school currently has a staffing level of a principal, two mainstream teachers and shared learning support and resource teachers. The enrolment at 30 September 2001 was 45 pupils. Current accommodation at the school consists of two permanent classrooms in the main school building, one temporary classroom and other limited ancillary accommodation. Due to the greatly increased level of activity in the primary buildings areas since the Government came to office, there has been a substantial increase in the number of major and minor building projects in construction which, in turn, has given rise to a record level of building and refurbishment activity.
The application from Ballyleague national school will be processed as soon as possible under the Government's expanded building programme. In the meantime, the board of management at the school should continue to use the devolved grant to address any health and safety issues. The Department is willing to consider an application for grant aid towards the cost of any proposed works of an emergency nature if they exceed the amount available under the devolved grant. I thank Senator Connor for the oppor tunity to outline the current position to the House.
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