I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this item. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to the House. The proposal is that the Minister for Education and Science would sanction and indicate the resources she will make available for the extension to Mercy College, Woodford, County Galway. This school was built as a stand-alone school in the 1980s for 220 students. With an increase in the recent past of up to 30% in student enrolment at the school, it is now catering for 264 students and the number is rising rapidly. The intake in the next couple of years will reflect the increasing local population and will probably increase to close to 300 students. In addition, the school must cater for 23 students with a wide range of disabilities and special needs. Included in that are moderate and mild learning difficulties, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, profound deafness and physical handicap.
The resources and facilities within the school do not do justice to the needs of students, particularly the 23 with special needs. Over the years the school has expanded the curriculum. For example, art is now taken to leaving certificate level, having begun in the past couple of years, and this necessitates additional space and resources. Likewise, woodwork is accommodated in a converted shed in the school premises. The size of the staff room, which caters for 25 teachers and special needs assistants, would have to be seen to be believed. In addition, PLC courses and all other courses for the surrounding community are provided in prefabs or previously vacated national school premises.
The board of management, school management and staff were told that the school would be included by March 2006 in the allocation for funding. It currently has band 2 rating, the essential stage, and it was hoped it would be included in the March allocation of 2006. However, to the dismay of management and staff, they were recently told the school should be included between 2007 and 2010. That set the alarm bells ringing with regard to what can be done to provide adequate accommodation for the school enrolment.
The school has developed from being a small, stand-alone school serving a wide rural population. It has grown in strength and its record of academic achievement for its students is second to none nationally. In light of the commitments given under the Disability Act 2005 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, there is an onus on the Department of Education and Science to respond positively and to indicate to the board of management, school management and staff, as well as the parents, that there will be good news for them in the near future so they can plan for their future, rather than having to reduce the curriculum or shed students to surrounding schools. This would cause great difficulty for parents because they would then be faced with the need to avail of school transport.
It should not happen. The school should serve the catchment area for which it was intended. It cannot continue in its present accommodation due to the lack of space. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to impress on the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, the urgency of this matter, particularly as the school provides for 23 special needs children with no extra facilities other than mainstream facilities, which is a credit to the management and staff, who are dealing with a very difficult situation and providing a good standard of education. The Minister of State should impress on the Minister that she should allow the project to proceed rapidly because it is required.