Written Answers. - Community Schools.

Joe Higgins


180 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps, if any, he has taken to resolve the protracted dispute in Carndonagh community school, County Donegal; and if he will make available the necessary information which is available to the board and his Department to the Teachers' Union of Ireland representative on the board of management. [22241/98]

I am aware of complaints concerning management issues at Carndonagh community school. These complaints related to the level of financial accountability to the board and the accuracy of returns of pupil enrolments submitted to my Department.

Community schools are established under a deed of trust and managed by an 11 member board of management separate from my Department. The board comprises three representatives of the religious communities, three representatives of the vocational education committee, two parent and two teacher representatives. The principal teacher of the school is a non voting member of the board of management. My Department is not represented on the board. Each board is responsible for the governance and direction of the school and for the procedures in place to inform board members concerning the affairs of the school. My Department provides guidance to boards in relation to school management generally and it also supports initiatives taken by the representative management body for boards — the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools — in this regard so as to ensure that best practice obtains. Where internal board difficulties arise, these fall to be dealt with by the board in the first instance.

The complaints received concerning Carndonagh community school were referred to the board of management for its consideration and report to the Department. The board responded stating that it was satisfied with the accountability arrangements in place at the school and that all relevant information had been made available to board members.

In March 1995 the school informed my Department of an error in the return of enrolments submitted for 1994-95 which resulted in an over-statement of pupils attending the school. This error was the result of inadequate checking of the return before it was submitted to my Department. The board was reminded of its obligations to ensure that such returns are accurate and complete. Roll keeping procedures have been reviewed on a number of occasions since then and my Department is satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of pupil returns.

My Department's internal audit unit visited the school in May 1996 to examine its operation and procedures and prepared a report on its findings. The board of management was requested to consider the report and outline the measures being taken to address weaknesses identified in the school's systems. Following two further visits in 1997, the internal audit unit confirmed that progress was being made in upgrading procedures at the school but further work was required in a number of areas. Outside accounting expertise was also sanctioned for the school.
My Department has also met with members of the board in 1997 and 1998 and outlined to them the board's responsibilities for the overall management of the school and the need for improved procedures. Guidance has been given to the board in relation to good management practice generally.
The complaints made did not refer to any impropriety on the part of the school management and my Department's inquiries have not uncovered any evidence in this regard. The school has co-operated fully with my Department's inquiries and the board has undertaken to accept and implement the internal audit unit's recommendations. However, a number of issues remain to be resolved and my Department will continue to monitor progress at the school in consultation with the board of management.