I propose to answer Questions Nos. 231 and 232 together.
The 2012 Report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector recommended that demand for patronage diversity should be met in areas of stable population by divesting patronage of existing schools where there is evidence of parental demand for change.
In this context, in 2012/13, my Department undertook surveys of parental preferences in 43 areas of stable population to establish the level of demand for a wider choice in the patronage of primary schools. These areas were all stable in terms of population growth, so no new school places were required. However sufficient demand for more choice emerged in 28 areas, including in New Ross.
In the majority of the 28 areas surveyed where sufficient demand emerged, including New Ross, the level of parental demand for a wider choice indicated a size of a four classroom school being required to accommodate such a level of demand.
Under the patronage divesting process, a school could be opened where a school building became, or was due to become, available as a result of an amalgamation/closure of an existing school. In some areas, in responding to demand for diversity where existing patrons were unable make school properties available, my Department also included an examination of properties held in public ownership.
In order to facilitate the opening of these schools, their initial establishment, as with most new schools, has been in temporary start-up accommodation, pending a permanent school building being made available. All schools, irrespective of their location, have to operate within their available accommodation and manage annual pupil intake accordingly.
The initial establishment of these schools as four-classroom schools and the need to be cognisant of managing the available accommodation has been reflected in my Department’s engagement with the patron body of the schools, Educate Together. Indeed, a case has been submitted by Educate Together to my Department to further expand New Ross ETNS and four other schools opened under the patronage divesting process and this is currently under consideration.
My Department is currently carrying out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary level to identify areas of demographic growth and determine where additional school accommodation is needed in order to plan for school provision nationwide and this work is almost complete. In this context, the outcome of the nationwide demographic exercises will input into consideration of the case submitted by Educate Together.
My Department has announced a new Patronage Reconfiguration process, which will accelerate the delivery of multi-denominational and non-denominational schools, to reach 400 multi-denominational and non-denominational schools by 2030. Unlike the previous process, this plan will focus on live transfers, so that a school which transfers under this process would not be reliant on temporary accommodation.