Schools Building Projects

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber.

I want to make the case for the provision of a secondary school in Claregalway which is urgently needed. There are constant traffic problems in the area, as well as problems with sewerage. The population of the area has grown enormously in recent years and one of the problems is that there is no secondary school in the locality. I believe there are more than 1,100 primary school pupils within a short radius of the town and that if one moves out a little further there are up to 1,800 primary school pupils. There is a clear view among local people and politicians across the political divide of the need for a secondary school and the issue has been placed before the Minister for Education and Skills.

Much work has been done by local people to provide a framework for such a school. Unfortunately, many local people have to travel up to 20 miles or 30 miles a day to bring their children to school and the time taken to travel presents a problem. This has a big impact on schools in Galway city approximately eight miles away, Tuam and Oranmore, on which it is placing a huge burden. It is no secret that at one stage Galway was the fastest growing city in Europe and the growth level is still huge. Claregalway is a small outlying town, but when I say "small," it is expanding rapidly.

There is a clear need for a secondary school. The town ticks all of the right boxes with regard to transport, etc. The issue of patronage has been largely resolved locally. From a political point of view, it is imperative that the project proceed urgently because a crisis is developing in school accommodation throughout the county. Existing secondary schools are growing to such a size that they will find it difficult to cope. In certain schools in Galway city, for example, children are not being taught in classrooms but in corridors because the schools in question are being forced to expand to meet demand.

The solution is to provide a secondary school in a central location which pupils could attend without having to travel huge distances. I would like to see the support structures for such a school being put in place to encourage people to avail of sustainable transport methods in order that children from the area could walk or travel to school by school bus or bicycle. A bus lane was created nearby recently. If this could be done, it would have a number of positive effects. It would cater for the needs of the community, particularly local children. It would also sort out the many transport problems in the area, provide a good community hub and a focal point for the expanding community in Claregalway. It would have benefits for the wider region, including a positive impact on traffic volumes in Galway city.

There is much to be said in making the case for the provision of a secondary school and very little to be said against it. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to make it an urgent priority on the list of schools receiving attention in the Department of Education and Skills.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan. I thank Senator Ó Brolcháin for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position in regard to the process for the establishment of new post-primary schools in general and in particular the request for a new secondary school in Claregalway, County Galway.

The most recent projections used by the Department would see the projected enrolments at post-primary level increase from the current total enrolment, excluding PLCs, of approximately 312,200 pupils to an expected enrolment of between 331,500 and 336,600 pupils by 2017. It is within this context that the forward planning section is in the process of analysing all areas in the country in order to determine the level of additional provision which will be required at post-primary level up to 2017. Overall post-primary requirements in the Claregalway area will be considered in this context.

In July this year the Tánaiste announced a significant reform of the process for the recognition of new second-level schools. The new framework to be established will involve the setting out of clear criteria against which new second level school applications will be assessed and will increase the transparency of decision making, with the establishment of a small expert group to advise on second-level patronage applications. The Tánaiste plans to establish this group shortly and to seek its input prior to the finalisation of detailed criteria and procedures.

As the Senator may be aware, primary schools in Claregalway feed into the Galway city post-primary feeder area. In January 2008, the commission on school accommodation published an area development plan for south Galway, 2007-12, which made reference to Claregalway. I refer to a summary of the recommendations for Claregalway:

The Commission recommends that house building and enrolments at Claregalway should be closely monitored by the Department of Education and Skills and that a site should be identified and acquired for a post-primary facility that would accommodate approximately 600 students. This school is likely to be needed by circa 2016.

Officials from the forward planning section of the Department met with members of the Claregalway second level school parents committee on 15 October last to discuss matters with regard to the request for a new second level school. Department officials outlined the work currently being carried out by the forward planning section in regard to determining future needs in this area. The progression of all large-scale building projects arising from forward planning section's detailed analysis will be considered in the context of the Department's school building and modernisation programme.

It should also be noted that a new post-primary school for 650 pupils has been approved for Doughiska, on the east side of Galway city. This will ease pressure on post-primary provision in the Galway city catchment area, in particular areas on the east and north east of the city. This is one of eight schools which were approved for inclusion in the third bundle of schools to be procured via public private partnership. It is anticipated that the schools will be ready for occupation in summer 2013.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position on the establishment of new post-primary schools generally and in particular the request for a new post-primary school in Claregalway, County Galway.

I ask for a clarification regarding the Minister of State's reply which states, "It is anticipated that the schools will be ready for occupation in summer 2013". Is this a reference to the school at Doughiska or does it also refer to the proposed school at Claregalway?

I understand it is not a reference to Claregalway but I will ask for clarification for the Senator.

There is an urgent need for a school. The local people who have children in very difficult situations need clarity on when the proposed school will be available. I ask the Minister of State to clarify what will be the earliest possible date for the opening of the school.