Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Questions (30)

Thomas Byrne


30. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for further second level provision in County Meath, including language diversity and general provision for the parts of County Meath in which pupils currently predominantly attend secondary school in Drogheda. [28285/16]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

This question concerns an area of expanding population in east Meath that consists of Laytown, Bettystown, the outskirts of Drogheda, Duleek, Donore and surrounding areas. Traditionally, many people in those areas have gone to secondary school in Drogheda. There are a huge number of primary schools in that area with very large primary schools either having been built, being built or remaining to be built. I am wondering about secondary school provision. There have been calls for a secondary school in Duleek and possibly another one on the outskirts of Drogheda. What provision has the Department made in respect of that?

In identifying the requirement for new school provision and for additional school places, my Department uses a geographical information system to identify the areas under increased demographic pressure nationwide. The system uses data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Social Protection and information from my Department's own databases. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic analyses to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and at post-primary level.

Following the 2015 demographic analysis, 13 new schools will open in 2017 and 2018 to cater for increased demographic need nationwide. Regarding the school planning areas in County Meath, my Department's demographic analysis shows these areas are experiencing demographic growth, however, the level of growth and the rate of year-on-year increase are not to an extent that would warrant the provision of additional new schools. My Department is keeping these school planning areas under review to take account of updated child benefit data, enrolment data and the impact of capacity increases in these and adjacent school planning areas. When it is decided that a new school is required to meet demographic need, a separate process is undertaken, as the Deputy knows, to determine patronage. Regarding the specific issues the Deputy raised about pupils who predominantly attend secondary school in Drogheda, a Gaelcholaiste, Coláiste Ghlór na Mara, was opened in Balbriggan in 2014 to provide Irish medium post-primary places for north Dublin, east Meath and south Louth areas, including Drogheda.

Coláiste Ghlór na Mara is a school to which my children might go, given that they are in a Gaelscoil that feeds into it. However, it is in north County Dublin and I would probably prefer children to have an option locally. The Department got away lightly, given that Gormanston College went into the free education scheme. If it had not happened, the Department would have faced a major crisis. This was in an area in which the Department said provision was not needed. I also ask the Minister to look separately at Ashbourne. There is a serious problem there and the Department is getting the numbers wrong. They were wrong this year at primary level. Houses are being built, and people who move into the town may have difficulties regarding second level provision.

The Minister cannot accept everything the Department says. It is good to question it. It was shown that the Department got it wrong in Ashbourne this year and I am not convinced that future planning around the east Meath area is up to scratch. Duleek should be examined regarding second level education, given the range of schools and the changing demographics. It is a significantly expanding area. I am not sure the current systems are working and are fit for purpose.

I bow to the Deputy's greater knowledge and I have requested that officials meet the Deputy to discuss some of the issues, given that he has a concern. The six-year investment programme includes 31 projects for Meath which have been committed to. In Ashbourne, my Department is building a 1,000 pupil school to cater for the long-term needs of Coláiste De Lacy, which opened in temporary accommodation in 2014. Phase 1 of the permanent school is under construction and is expected to be completed shortly. Given the pressure of population growth, proof of population need has been a key criterion for prioritising projects. If a pattern emerges of people crossing county boundaries to attend another school, the pattern is factored into the planning process although, maybe, from an objective perspective one might say it might not be the preferred way. I will ask officials to meet with the Deputy. He has raised these concerns at committee and elsewhere and the Deputy needs reassurance.

The primary schools in Drogheda are massive. There has been no new second level provision on the south side of Drogheda. The primary schools in east Meath are massive and are doing a great job. There are some great buildings and some are still on the list. However, there has been no extra second level school in the area, apart from Laytown, which is six years old. Balbriggan is not an answer to the east Meath issue, and I worry increasingly about Drogheda and the numbers there. Sacred Heart Secondary School in Drogheda takes pupils from south Louth and east Meath and should be considered very carefully for extra provision. The school needs it, given that it has not had much work done ever and it does a great job, as does St. Mary's Diocesan School. I urge the Minister to examine it. I keep raising it because a mistake was made on the primary side. The Department was off the ball and off its game this year in Ashbourne, and this worries me regarding the future.

I just have the list. I am not in a position to give the Deputy a comprehensive answer. On the programme there is an extension to the post-primary school in Gormanstown, an extension to Ashbourne Community School and a five-year plan for Coláiste De Lacy with the first phase due to be completed this year. A number of projects are listed. I acknowledge the Deputy's concern and, hopefully, we can offer some reassurance.