Thursday, 8 December 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Browne: This matter, unlike the previous Bill, is quite uncomplicated. It concerns Nurney national school in County Carlow. Nurney is a very picturesque village perhaps five or six miles outside Carlow town. It is currently a two-teacher school, and it is in urgent need of a devolved grant. I understand that it applied for such a grant in 2000 and that it has requested an update. In classroom one, which measures 34 sq.m. there are 18 pupils in third to sixth class. In classroom two, which measures 30 sq.m. there are 16 pupils in junior infants to second class. The recommended classroom size is 76 sq.m. meaning that both classes are well below the norm.
What brought that home to the principal in question was his attendance at a course where an inspector from the Department of Education and Science explained what could be done in school. The principal was bemused and asked how it might be done in a tiny school with tiny classrooms. The inspector advised him that he could apply for a devolved grant. It is very clear that the classroom sizes are totally inadequate and that the 34 pupils attending Nurney national school and their families deserve better. As far as I am aware, the devolved grant was specifically designed for schools such as this, allowing works to be carried out quickly to bring them up to scratch and enable teachers and pupils to engage in the modern curriculum at primary level, which requires more space than the current 34 sq.m. and 30 sq.m.
I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply. I should perhaps also explain to him that Nurney is a rapidly growing area, with many new houses being built. Unlike many other two-teacher schools, this one is quite confident that it will be able to maintain the numbers on its roll in coming years. It confidently predicts that it will have at least 34 pupils for the next five years, based on current trends.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. B. Lenihan): I thank Senator Browne for raising this matter on the Adjournment. It provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the action planned to progress the application for capital funding from Nurney national school, County Carlow.
At the outset I want to point out that 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 sincere determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
We have progressively increased funding for the school modernisation programme in recent years to achieve our goal with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion allocated for this purpose since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State. Since the beginning of this year the Minister for Education and Science has made a number of announcements relating to the school 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 list of projects approved to date includes the following: 122 large-scale projects to proceed to tender and construction over a 12 to 15 months period; 97 projects under the small schools initiative; 75 projects under the permanent accommodation initiative; 140 temporary accommodation projects; 43 projects authorised to enter design phase; 741 small-scale projects under the summer works scheme; and 143 projects to progress through architectural planning. In addition, 23 new post-primary schools and four new primary schools will be provided under a major expansion of the Government’s public-private partnership programme from 2006 to 2009.
With regard to the school referred to by the Senator, the school’s board of management originally made an application to the Department of Education and Science for a multi-purpose room and the provision of ancillary accommodation. The school is a two classroom school catering for some 32 pupils. The system of prioritisation used by the Department to assess large-scale capital projects for funding is broadly based on a report produced for the Department of Education and Science. In drawing up this report, a broad range of bodies were consulted such as the National Parents Council, primary and post-primary, teachers’ unions, management bodies and the Commission on School Accommodation. The report identified the criteria to be used in selecting school building projects for funding, taking account of the Department’s policies and priorities in the area of planning and provision of school accommodation. The criteria were subsequently revised following consultation with the education partners to ensure they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of primary and post-primary schools.
The order of priority for determining which projects can progress to tender and construction is based on the band ratings assigned to each project under this prioritisation system. The proposed building project at Nurney national school, County Carlow, was assessed in accordance with the prioritisation criteria and assigned a band 3 rating. Recently, however, the school submitted a request for two new classrooms and the conversion of existing accommodation to ancillary accommodation. The school has been asked to formalise its request using the standard documentation. On receipt of this, the school’s application will be re-assessed and the project considered for progress in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2006 onwards.
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