Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 26 Mar 1992

Vol. 417 No. 7

Adjournment Debate. - Education Matters.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Tá mé an-bhuíoch díot, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, go bhfuil deis agam labhairt faoin fhadhb sa choláiste réigiúnach i gCeatharlach. Sar a dtosnóidh mé ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire Stáit agus tá súil agam go mbeidh téarma tairbheach aige sa Roinn.

The regional college has been an educational landmark in Ireland and we are very proud of the students from all over the country who come to Carlow. We are also very proud of the new multi-purpose centre that has been opened there at a cost of £750,000. I suppose that we would be even more proud if this very excellent multi-purpose centre could be opened quickly for the use of students and others who might wish to avail themselves of the facilities. It is unfortunate that an investment of £750,000 is not being utilised to the full. For that reason, I hope the Minister will inform me that any holdup will not be prolonged by his Department. I should perhaps be more positive and say I hope that any financial aid required will be provided by the Minister so that both management and staff will be able to enjoy this wonderful facility.

I thank Deputy Browne for his good wishes. I am glad that the matter has been raised by my constituency colleague, as it gives me the opportunity to give him the good news first.

The multipurpose centre at the college has been completed and bringing it into full use is a matter in the first instance for the college authorities.

It is understood that the centre has in fact been in use since October 1991. However, it is at present temporarily out of use but I understand that the college authorities will be reopening the centre on Monday next, 30 March, and that it will be available for full student usage the following Wednesday.

The reason for the temporary closure was stated to be inadequate financial resources to provide the staff required to maintain and take care of the centre. My Department have been in touch with County Carlow Vocational Education Committee on the question of the RTC pay budget and have agreed to allocate additional pay resources in respect of the college. This will enable the college to provide the required staffing to maintain the centre. Additional funds for this purpose were also allocated in 1991.

I welcome the Minister to his new portfolio. I look forward to as positive an answer to the question of the Old Borough national school in Swords, as was received by Deputy John Browne in respect of the matter he raised. This school was built in 1809 for the poor of the borough in Fingal. Since then very little has been done to the school by the State other than the provision in recent years of new toilets. At present, there are 80 pupils, mostly non-Catholics, attending this school, the only Protestant school serving the areas of Swords, Donabate and Ashbourne.

The accommodation consists of one large room in which three classes — first, second and third — are taught by one teacher. A portion of this large room has been fenced off, as it were, and there another two classes, junior and senior infants, are taught by another teacher. The remainder of the pupils — in fourth, fifth and sixth classes — are taught by the principal of this school is one prefab building in the back of the school. The prefab building was erected in September 1990 and at this stage the upstairs portion of the school building has been declared unsafe. In fact, it is my information that the whole building did not pass an electrical test carried out some time ago.

The prefab classroom is completely unsatisfactory, particularly on wet days. There are no facilities for the teachers, who must make their coffee in the corner of one of the classrooms. The cost of the prefab building to the Department and board of governors has been approximately £373 per month since September 1990. For that reason I contend that £4,000 has been unnecessarily expended by the Minister's Department while the school awaits its refurbishment. The board of governors are not anxious to spend any more money on this dilapidated building as they feel they would be merely throwing good money after bad. The playground facilities are located in the car park on a slope of approximately 30 to 35 degree angle, the school gate opening beside a set of traffic lights on a busy road.

Tender documents have been received in the Minister's Department. I urge the Minister not to wait until 1993 to invite tenders for this project. There is double urgency about the matter, and not only because of the unnecessary rental charges on the prefabricated building and unnecessary spending on the part of the board of governors. It is the only school in the area catering for non-Catholic primary school children. Indeed there is the risk of a claim of discrimination against these children, particularly since so many of the Catholic schools have been upgraded in recent years — a welcome development in itself. There can be very few schools nationwide built as far back as 1809 which have not been upgraded.

I thank the Deputy for her kind remarks. Unfortunately, I do not think I can deliver in this case. The position is that the Old Borough national school, Swords, County Dublin, has a principal and two assistants in this permanent school. There were 75 enrolments in September 1991. The school is in an old building of two storeys over a basement. In February 1991 the school's private architect was given approval to apply for planning permission and by-law approval in order to provide a new roof and floor, ceiling replacement, complete replastering of internal and external walls, the provision of a fire escape, new heating and electrical system, window updating and consequential painting and updating. A third classroom is to be provided in the project planning and full by-law approval was cleared in June 1991 for those detailed works. Tender documents for the project were submitted to my Department in June 1991. The question of the invitation of tenders for the project will be considered in the context of the 1993 budgetary situation as the 1992 budget is already committed.

The scheme is an extensive and very expensive one as the original building is a two-storey school so that fire safety measures must be provided. The Department are at present assisting with grant aid for rent of the Portakabin used because the two upstairs classrooms cannot be utilised.

The provisional estimate for the works to be carried out is approximately £190,000 excluding professional fees. I might point out that that sum does not include other necessary works such as on the boundary, tarmac and so on. These estimates are based on 1990 prices. Because of the major cost and the size of the undertaking involved it is not possible to progress the scheme in the current year. Finances for 1992 have been committed. It is not possible, due to the extent of the works, to allow the scheme to progress this year. When the 1993 budgetary situation becomes clear it will be possible to progress the scheme to the next stage, which is the invitation of tender stage.

I am aware that the school is situated in Swords village, that there are major plans under way to build a luxury hotel in the village and that the existing school is not in keeping with the general high standard of the area. However, when the major renovations are completed the school will be in keeping with the renewed area. Hopefully towards the end of the year we may be able to progress this project further.

Perhaps this time the Minister will have better news. Our Constitution calls for the cherishing of all the children of the nation equally. I wish to point out to the Minister that many of our children are not cherished by the State. I refer specifically to those children denied remedial teaching in our post-primary schools.

In particular I call on the Minister to provide a remedial teacher for the Fingal Community College in Swords, County Dublin. This school is in a phase of growth and development, with 417 pupils at present and with a projected growth to 500 over the next couple of years. I might point out that 15 to 20 per cent of the pupils attending this school have serious reading problems, some of them being between six and seven years below the average reading ability for their age. In September 1992 this school will be taking in ten students directly from special primary school classes because there is no provision in the system for their accommodation. There is no remedial teacher in this school to follow up the education of these children coming there from special classes. Because of the lack of this facility many students are disappearing within the system, eventually leaving school, with absolutely no skills in reading or writing and very little personal adequacy skills.

At present the Fingal Community College, the only remedial facility available, is provided by scheduling some part-time teachers to undertake sessions of special work with some of the more disadvantaged children. Of course, this means that the other children are being deprived of extra optional subjects, of pass and honours classes, and so on. Surely that is not a proper manner in which to run our education system?

The town of Swords probably is the only suburban area of north County Dublin in a growth pattern. Even though this school is located in what would generally not be described as a "disadvantaged area" I would point out to the Minister there is a number of pupils urgently in need of remedial help. The Minister and his Department must recognise that the services they are providing fall short of what is desirable.

Added to the lack of a remedial teacher in the Fingal Community College this school is at present housed in a motley collection of buildings, most of them temporary. Although there are Departmental proposals to upgrade the school — which project I hope will get the go ahead in 1993 — the matter is still only at the planning stage. This lack of adequate accommodation exacerbates the difficulties in the provision of even a minimal amount of remedial help. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter and at least allocate a shared remedial teacher to this school.

It may surprise Deputy Owen to hear that a proposal has not been received from the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee for the provision of remedial posts in respect of this college. My Department allocate teaching resources to County Dublin Vocational Education Committee on a scheme basis. It is a matter for their chief executive officer to allocate those resources to schools within the committee's scheme as he sees fit. My Department recently notified County Dublin Vocational Education Committee of their teacher allocation for the 1992-93 session, which includes a number of remedial posts to cater for the needs of schools within the scheme.

Should a proposal be received in my Department for the creation of an additional resource teaching post to deal with a particular category of children it will receive every consideration. Perhaps the Deputy would take the necessary steps to ensure that that is the case. If and when any such proposal is received in my Department I can assure the Deputy it will be referred immediately to the Psychological Unit of the Department for assessment.

May I inform the Minister that I understand it was mislaid, that there was some communication from the vocational education committee today? Hopefully, the omission will be rectified by tomorrow.

The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 27 March 1992.