Thursday, 15 February 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Finucane: It is a great show of solidarity. This issue relates to Coláiste Chiaráin in Croom, County Limerick. Recently, a deputation of parents met me to express their concern at the lack of activity in replacing the old school with a new structure. The existing school was built over 20 years ago and at that stage it consisted of five classrooms, a staff of 12 and a student population of 86. It is now recognised locally and nationally for its commitment to the provision of quality education to students of all abilities and denominations. The school has an unrivalled subject choice for State examinations and has been highly acclaimed for initiatives in information technology.
The difficulty facing the school is due to its success because student enrolment has soared to 729 pupils, with a complement of 65 staff. The present school campus is contained on a site of less than six acres and all of the green areas have been eroded to accommodate 50 temporary prefabricated buildings. As a result, there has been a depletion of playing fields, there is no gym and assembly and canteen and staff facilities are totally inadequate. It is clear that Coláiste Chiaráin has outgrown its boundaries due to its success.
The school was invited to join the common applications system for Limerick city and county because of its progress and success. This process will yield up to 150 students for enrolment from September 2007, surely an expression of solidarity from parents regarding the educational success of the school. Parents are frustrated because they feel there is a lack of motivation on the building of the new campus and that the project is still at the concept stage.
The recent meeting held between the school’s parents council and the vocational education committee led parents to the conclusion that the VEC has not yet delivered a site and they feel a controversy is growing around long-term pupil enrolment. Parents are very frustrated at this delay and I raised this issue today hoping the Minister for State will give a response indicating that progress is being made on this matter.
Mr. Brennan: I welcome the Minister for State to the House and thank Senator Finucane for sharing his time on this matter. I support the points raised by the Senator. The school in Croom has 729 pupils and a staff of 65, and it is to take in 150 students next September under the common enrolment system. It is a very valuable campus situated on less than six acres of fully serviced land in the centre of the town.
The concerns of the community, including the parents, were raised at recent meetings with the VEC in an effort to clarify the committee’s and Minister’s commitment to providing adequate facilities to meet the demand. As Senator Finucane stated, the long-term pupil-teacher ratio is of concern in determining the future enrolment of the college.
The school has attracted students from Limerick city, which has solved the problem for the Minister. However, four years ago, when both Senator Finucane and I were members of Limerick County Council, the Croom town development plan was adopted and the present college facilities were on the lands zoned for educational use.At the time, the VEC was trying to identify adjacent suitably zoned lands. In light of the long-term plan for the town and the ring road, the Department and VEC should consider the surrounding lands to determine how a phased building programme could reach the standard they require.
The college is a tremendous asset to the town of Croom. Suitably zoned and serviced land is scarce and I therefore ask the Minister to address the concerns of the parents and clarify the future enrolment of the school and the timeframe and commitment of the Department in providing the required facilities.
Mr. Gallagher: Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl do na Seanadóirí as ucht an cheist thábhachtach seo dá gceantar a ardú ar an Athló agus deis a thabhairt dom freagra a thabhairt thar ceann an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta. I thank both Senators for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, the strategy for capital investment in education projects and also the current position on proposed developments at post-primary level in Croom.
Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area and also the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth.
Nonetheless, since taking office, this Government has shown focused determination to improve the condition of school buildings and to ensure that appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
Under the National Development Plan, 2007 to 2013, launched some weeks ago, funding of €4.5 billion will be invested in first and second level schools modernisation and development programmes. This unprecedented level of investment will allow us to meet the needs of a growing school population, modernise existing school facilities and provide for curriculum reform and innovation.
A total of 7,800 individual schools building projects were delivered on foot of the €2.6 billion investment under the last national development plan. Building projects under the €4.5 billion investment in the new national development plan will benefit from recent innovations in delivery mechanisms that have allowed for fast-tracking of priority school developments. Schools are seeing that the activity under the new plan is already under way, with 1,500 school building projects due to be delivered in 2007.
On the specific matter in hand, Coláiste Chiaráin is the only post-primary school in Croom and it is a co-educational provider with a current enrolment of 554 mainstream pupils. It has 175 students attending post-leaving certificate courses. The school’s accommodation comprises some permanent accommodation and an extensive number of prefabricated buildings, which were provided to 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 Chiaráin. Given the restricted nature of the existing site of some six acres, the Department has given the necessary approval to County Limerick VEC to purchase a site to facilitate the development of a replacement school. The VEC has identified a suitable site for that purpose.
The Department of Education and Science is currently preparing the long-term projected enrolment on which the school’s accommodation needs will be based and will shortly notify the VEC of same. When the long-term projected enrolment has been finalised and agreed with the school authorities, the Department will draw up schedules of accommodation for the new building. The building project will then be progressed in the context of the schools building and modernisation programme.
I thank the Senator for contributing to this important debate concerning the future of many young people in the catchment area of Croom. The Senators’ raising this matter allowed the Minister to outline, through me, the progress being made under the schools building and modernisation programme and the position of Coláiste Chiaráin in Croom. I have listened attentively to both Senators, who have an intimate knowledge of the case in question. Reference was made to the many prefabricated buildings. I hope progress can be made when the details of the schedules of accommodation are available and the long-term enrolment is determined. There is no point in catering for the present; one must also cater for the future.
Mr. Finucane: The Minister of State said, “The Department of Education and Science is currently preparing the long-term projected enrolment on which the school’s accommodation needs will be based and will shortly notify the VEC of same.” Does he believe the VEC will be notified within a month?
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