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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 May 1993

Vol. 136 No. 4

Adjournment Matters. - School Transport.

I wish to share my time with Senator Ross who is also concerned about this matter.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I apologise to the Minister for having to bring him to the House on this issue. I would not — nor would my colleague, Senator Ross — have raised the issue in this way was it not for the fact that there is something approaching a crisis in second level education in a part of north Wicklow.

That second level crisis in the area I represent — Greystones, Kilcoole, Delgany and Newtownmountkennedy — has been known to the local community and to the school authorities for some considerable time. At present, there are seven major primary schools in that area which with the exception of the two Church of Ireland schools, are serviced for second level purposes by St. David's school in Greystones. That school has been operating beyond its capacity for a considerable number of years. Earlier this year, the school management was forced to inform the parents of pupils attending the schools at Kilcoole, Newcastle, Newtownmountkennedy and certain pupils in Greystones, that their children could not be accommodated in St. David's in the coming school year.

Last October, the Minister of State, Deputy S. Brennan indicated to me in correspondence that he would consider the possibility of temporary accommodation at St. David's. This option could not be taken up by St. David's because there is no space as the school is on a severely limited site. At present there are dozens of parents in Kilcoole, Newcastle and Greystones who do not know where their children will be attending second level school this autumn. The irony is that while the students cannot be accommodated in St. David's or in schools in Bray for which the parents have expressed a preference, there are second level places available in Wicklow town, particularly in the De Le Salle and Dominican Convent schools for which the parents indicated a strong preference.

The problem is that while there are places in Wicklow needed by children in the Kilcoole, Newcastle and Newtownmountkennedy areas, there is no school transport to accommodate them. Under the existing school transport arrangements, the children are ineligible for transport to these schools from their home areas. If the students in question do get places in Wicklow, the nearest collection point for them is Newcastle village, almost three miles from the nearest of about 25 children's houses. It is inconvenient for many of the parents to get to that collection point. There is a scheduled bus service into Newcastle village but, unfortunately, it will not connect with the school transport. The reality is that we have excellent school places in north-east Wicklow and we have students who want to avail of those places but they cannot because of the inflexible school transport system.

I accept that bussing the children to Wicklow is not the best solution. The best solution is to provide a second level school in the Kilcoole/Kilquade area, the figures attest eloquently to this need. For example, in the five primary schools in the St. David's catchment area, 367 students will leave in 1993, 341 in 1994 and approximately 350 in each of the following two years. St. David's could not accommodate half of those students. There is a mounting crisis there.

I know the Department is trying to pressurise the parents into availing of some other schools in the Bray area for which they have not indicated a strong preference. They have been discussing the possibility of their children attending the schools in Wicklow I mentioned. The schools in question are excellent and would be willing, as far as I am aware, to accept these children. I suggest that with some flexibility of the school transport arrangements this move could be accommodated.

I thank Senator Roche for sharing his time. I endorse fully what he has said. It is another example of the fact that the infrastructure in north Wicklow is not adequate to meet the needs of the population. We have seen this in the roads, footpaths, sewerage and transport services in Bray and Greystones and now, unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly evident in the schools. The solution, as Senator Roche said, is not to improve the transport facilities, which is a temporary solution, but for the Minister to either provide better facilities in the existing schools or build more schools in north Wicklow.

It is a great loss to Wicklow that we do not have a Minister from the area. When Deputy Kavanagh and former Deputy Hussey were Ministers we had a large and more prolific school building programme. I suspect that this problem would not have arisen if we had a Minister, particularly a Minister for Education, from Wicklow addressing this problem.

The immediate problem which has to be solved is the fact that people cannot get their children into schools of their preference. The absurdity of this situation is that there are places available in Wicklow — which is still a long way from Delgany, Kilcoole and Greystones — but the transport is not available. I endorse what Senator Roche said and ask the Minister of State to make immediate arrangements to permit children to use the school bus facilties to travel to Wicklow town.

First, I thank Senator Roche and Senator Ross for their contributions to this debate and to say I admire the level of co-operation which exists in the Seanad. In reference to Senator Ross's point about not having a Minister from the Wicklow area, perhaps after the next election both Senators will be able to rectify that.

We will have two with any luck.

One of my areas of responsibility is to ensure the safe delivery of about 169,000 primary and post-primary pupils to schools throughout the country. I also have the responsibility of ensuring that the State gets the best possible value for the money it expends on the provision of this service. In the current year, £38 million approximately will be spent on the provision of this service. This figure includes about £4 million which Bus Éireann receives in charges from those pupils who are liable for such charges.

The post-primary transport scheme is organised in the first instance by the transport liaison officer — who is the chief executive officer of the vocational education committee of the county — in co-operation with the school authorities and Bus Éireann. My Department is not involved with the day-to-day running of the scheme. This is the responsibility of the transport liaison officers, in conjunction with Bus Éireann.

I should also explain that, for the purpose of the post-primary education scheme, the country has been divided into catchment areas, each of which has its own post-primary education centre. Recognised post-primary pupils who live at least three miles from the education centre of the catchment area in which they reside are eligible, under the terms of the scheme, for transport to that centre.

Pupils who are eligible for transport to the appropriate schools in their catchment area, but who wish to attend a school outside it, may be allowed transport only from the catchment boundary of the school attended. Catchment boundary transport may be allowed, provided that there is room, after all eligible children have been accommodated and that no extra cost is incurred, either by way of an additional, or larger, bus or an extension of the route.

The pupils in question here, who wish to start post-primary school in Wicklow town schools from September 1993, live in the Bray/Greystones school area. They may then be allowed catchment boundary transport to Wicklow town, but subject to the conditions which I have already specified.

I am aware of the increased demand for post-primary places in the areas of east Wicklow referred to by the Senators. My Department is currently examining the longer-term post-primary needs of these areas in this context, and in the light of a recent application by County Wicklow Vocational Education Committee for a new second level school in Kilcoole.

It has been claimed by some parents that they applied to schools in the Bray/Greystones catchment area for admission for their children and were refused due to lack of accommodation. However, based on up to date information, made available to my Department earlier this week, such would not appear to be the case.

My Department has been advised that there are places available in at least two schools in the Bray/Greystones catchment area. These are: St. Killian's community school, Ballywaltrim, Bray, and St. Thomas' community college, Bray.

Of the 172 pupils due to start in St. Killian's community school in September next, four are from Greystones, five from Kilcoole and two from Delgany. St. Killian's still has places available and has turned no applicants away. St. Thomas' community college received 137 applications for places next September. Of these, 117 pursued their application. The 20 who did not all came from the Kilcoole area. One of those 20 has since reapplied and has been accepted.

The transport liaison officer for County Wicklow is currently examining applications for transport for the coming school year. Until this examination is completed, towards the end of this month, he will not be in a position to say how many places will be available for pupils seeking catchment boundary transport.

The Senators can rest assured that as soon as this information is available to the Department, it will notify them.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 May 1993.