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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 2005

Vol. 179 No. 8

Physical Education Facilities.

I welcome the Minister here for this Adjournment matter. It is ironic that I should raise this issue tonight because 12 or 13 years ago I had the honour of leading a march around Castleknock to get the Castleknock Community School built. At that time we were told there was no need for the 450 capacity school that became the major community school in Castleknock.

A gym was built in the school but only for 450 pupils. Following extensions the school has 1,150 pupils and 44 classes but 680 pupils, or 23 classes, cannot be accommodated for physical education because of the size of the original gym. We are all aware of the importance of physical education but while there is a great deal of lip service paid to encouraging young people to participate in sports, 50% of this school's students cannot participate.

The Department of Education and Science sanctioned the proposal for a second gym three or four years ago. I appeal to the Minister to recognise this and to give us some good news.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Department of Education and Science's overall strategy on the provision of physical education halls generally and at Castleknock Community College in particular. Modernising facilities in the country's 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment 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 to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum including physical education activities.

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. Within the modernisation programme, it is a particular policy to provide for the delivery of a broad and balanced physical education curriculum at primary and post-primary level and to support this with the provision of appropriate infrastructure.

Many post-primary schools already have physical education halls, hard play areas and playing fields. In addition, many use adjacent local facilities, including public parks, playing fields and swimming pools.

For those who do not have such facilities, it is the practice of the Department of Education and Science to provide a physical education hall as part of the delivery of an extension project to a school where no such facility exists. A physical education hall is also provided when a new school is being built.

Last year, to coincide with the European Year of Education through Sport, 15 physical education halls at post-primary level were included in the school building programme. These were either under construction at the time of publication or approved to proceed to tender and construction during 2004. The projected spend on these projects is almost €40 million.

These projects are being delivered under two programmes — the drugs task force initiative, which is jointly funded by the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the generically-designed physical education hall initiative which was developed in the Department of Education and Science. It is intended that this approach in particular, subject to evaluation procedures, will provide the template for sports facilities in post-primary schools countrywide.

The proposed physical education hall for Castleknock Community College is at stage 1 of the architectural planning process. In common with all projects, it was recently assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects, which were revised following consultation with the education partners. Progress on this project is being considered in the context of the school building programme from 2005 onwards.

In this regard, the Senator will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, recently announced the first phase of the 2005 school building programme which provided details of 122 major school building projects countrywide, which will prepare tenders and move to construction during 2005. This is the first in a series of announcements the Minister plans to make in the coming period on the schools building and modernisation programme. It will include details of schools identified as suitable for construction under public private partnerships, an expansion of the number of schools that will be invited to deliver their building projects on the basis of devolved funding, details of schools with projects approved under the 2005 summer works scheme, schools whose projects will further progress to the design process and schools that will be authorised to commence architectural planning.

I assure the Senator that the Government has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of under-investment in school infrastructure. The budget day announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable the Department of Education and Science to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which will allow significant and visible inroads to be made into our educational infrastructure deficits. I thank the Senator once again for raising this matter in the House.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.55 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 February 2005.