Adjournment Debate. - Schools Building Projects.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle for taking this matter and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. I extend my best wishes to the Minister and his staff. I was sorry to hear of the fire and was glad that no one was injured. I compliment the fire service on the wonderful job they did to save public and private property.

This matter is a major issue in the Carrowkennedy area. It is an area which was the location of a famous ambush. Many well known people came from the area, including the parents of former Minister Jim Tunney. If he was in the House I am sure he would support this request for an extra classroom for Carrowkennedy national school.

There will be 14 extra students starting in the school this year and only three leaving to go on to second level education. The total number of students will be 59 in September. The numbers have increased and the school is entitled to a third teacher. However, there is only classroom accommodation for two teachers and the classrooms are badly overcrowded. In September one teacher will have to teach 35 children in a room which can only accommodate half that number. All but the basic furniture has to be taken out to accommodate the students. The extra room, which is used as an office, will now have to be used as a computer room.

This area is three to four miles outside Westport. It is a good news story. Deputies are always looking for extra teachers because the numbers are falling. In this case the numbers are increasing. Many of the parents work in Westport but they want their children to be educated in Carrowkennedy. This is a reasonable request. Fifteen extra students are coming into the school and it is entitled to an extra teacher but there are only two classrooms.

I hope the Minister of State has good news for the school. There is talk of building a prefab. However, this is an isolated area situated in open countryside. A prefab would not withstand bad weather and I have no doubt it would be blown away and could be dangerous for children.

The Department should sanction the extra room and make sure that a stone building is constructed. It is important that the Minister of State makes the announcement quickly so that construction can commence. It would be unreasonable to request that it be ready by September but if it was sanctioned now it could be ready before Christmas.

This school is not like others which expect to maintain teacher levels while student numbers decline. The numbers are going up in the area and many new houses are being built. This will cause a further problem down the road. I hope the Minister of State has positive news. His officials will give him the usual line. However, he is a rural man and he has an understanding of rural life and schools. These teachers are working under difficult circumstances and I compliment them for an excellent job.

People who have come to Westport and the area have done well over the years. There is a fine standard of teaching and the parents want their children to be educated in the area. They do not want to have to bring their children elsewhere.

Property in Westport has become expensive as a result of the pilot scheme. People cannot afford to buy property in the town and they are looking to outlying areas and building houses. They are prepared to work in Westport and Castlebar but they want their children taught locally. I hope the Minister of State will grant the extra classroom and ensure that a stone building is constructed.

I thank the Deputy for his generous comments to the Minister and staff in the Department. We are delighted that no one was injured in the fire and that property has been saved. Hopefully things will soon return to normal. It is obvious that the Celtic tiger has been moving in the Westport-Carrowkennedy area and we have to take cognisance of that situation.

I am glad the Deputy has given me the opportunity of outlining the Department's position regarding accommodation at Carrowkennedy national school. I am aware that this school has a staffing level of a principal, one assistant and a shared remedial teacher. The current accommodation in the school consists of two permanent classrooms with sanitary facilities. These classrooms are undersized according to normal Department standards.

An application for the provision of a third classroom was received from the school management in April 1998 to alleviate overcrowding. A member of the Department's architectural staff visited the school recently and his report is currently being evaluated by the building unit which was destroyed in this morning's fire. However, we are confident that all the files have been saved.

As with all applications for additional accommodation, the Department's planning unit has been requested to examine the projected enrolments for the school to assess the long-term accommodation requirements. This process is ongoing and the board of management has been made aware of this.

The architectural report will be considered in conjunction with the planning unit's report. I endorse the Deputy's comments that this is a positive, progressive school. It has an excellent teaching standard and a happy educational environment. The Deputy, parents, teachers and the board require that we continue with a conventional extension to the school rather than any other type of structure.

I will give special recommendation to this project and ask for an immediate detailed analysis. We will try to make a decision as quickly as possible. When this has been completed the Minister for Education and Science will then be in a position to consider how best to address the school's accommodation needs.

I refer to a two teacher school in Ballybunion originally constructed in l957 and there have been no changes or extensions to the building since then. The total student population is 53. There are eight classes housed in two classrooms. There are 27 children in the senior level and 26 at the lower level. This arrangement is coming under increasing strain. By next year there will not be enough room in the senior room to accommodate all the children. There is no facility for remedial teaching and children requiring remedial teaching are currently accommodated in a converted coalhouse. There are no proper facilities for the photocopier or office accommodation. There are no facilities outside the two classrooms for art, physical education, library, music or accommodation of new technologies such as computers. The proposal is to construct an extension to the school of an internal dimension of 5.5 metres by 6.4 metres at an estimated miserly cost of £20,000.

The two classrooms are divided by a wooden partition which is not sound proof and this causes difficulties for the teachers in both rooms. An all-purpose room, as proposed, would allow the school provide facilities to cope with present day educational requirements. However, in the short-term the proposed extension would be used by the junior classes. This would allow senior classes with the larger numbers and bigger children to use both rooms in the school. The present senior room is inadequate to cater for the increased numbers projected for the next four to five years.

Even when the school numbers decrease, the proposed extension can revert to an all-purpose room. The increased space will allow teachers to avail of improved facilities in art work, physical education programmes, library facilities, music provision and computers. It would be impossible to find space in either room for the proposed computer facilities envisaged in future education plans.

A letter I received from the principal of the school, Anne O'Dowd, states:

In my teaching career in S.N. Cill Conla, I have had the pleasure of seeing the students succeed in secondary school and 95% of them have achieved third level education. 6th class students have left this school with an excellent standard of education and were highly motivated towards future education. It is with great joy that I meet them as they return from many parts of the world successful and fulfilled with their lives.

However, there is a change. At present in my classroom I have 27 children. They are distributed between four classes — 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. In 3rd and 4th classes there are 16 children. We have had to change from the bright modern group setting of furniture to 2nd hand desks where children sit in straight rows for 5 hours.

They cannot move freely in the classroom to use the educational equipment that I have acquired during the years. They do not have free access to the class library. This is of necessity pinned in by tables. Many of the books have to be stored in plastic boxes. All past students have left this school having read most children's classics and with a love of reading.

I have to impose strict discipline code in class. I am doing 4 different programmes in maths and a minimum of 2 programmes in all other subjects. At no stage in class can any student work in silence. At all times each student is subjected to noise levels from whatever class I am working with. They are subjected to noise from the four classes next door as there is only a wooden partition separating both rooms. This is the equivalent of studying with radios on!

The results are obvious. I am worried that this year and for future years the standard of education of the students leaving this school will be lower. I cannot give each or any child the time they require. With children with learning difficulties these difficulties become more acute, through lack of space to reach them, lack of time and attention and lack of support from their peers.

The concentration level of the students is deteriorating. This comes from the noise level operating within the room.

Children are becoming heedless because they are further removed when I am working with them. When I could group children I was always close to each child. Now because they are in rows I cannot get to the bottom of the row. They are too far removed from me and the blackboard.

Children cannot express themselves. I have always encouraged children to express themselves freely. Because of the overcrowding I cannot give time for this necessary activity. The result is that children are once more repressing their feelings and ideas.

In view of the sentiments expressed by Anne O'Dowd, I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure that work starts immediately on this school. I would appreciate if he could take a personal interest in the matter.

This matter gives me an opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the school. Kilconly National School, Ballybunion, County Kerry is a co-educational school with an enrolment of 53 pupils in the current school year. The staffing consists of a principal plus one assist ant teacher. In addition, the school has a shared remedial teacher. The current staffing level will remain unaltered for the 1998-9 school year. Accommodation at the school consists of two permanent classrooms, and a small room which was converted to cater for remedial tuition.

In July 1995 an application was received from the school authorities requesting an improvement in classroom accommodation, staff room, medical and library facilities. Following the normal procedures in a case of this type, the school's request was forwarded to the local school inspector for a report. The inspector concluded that the existing classrooms were not to a modern standard and did not provide adequate space for modern requirements. The inspector recommended the provision of an additional classroom at the school and upgrading of the existing accommodation to provide one classroom and one room suitable for library and medical inspections.

This recommendation was accepted by our Department's planning and building unit and a technical assessment of the school building was organised to determine the exact nature of the works required. However, due to the level of commitments at the time and restrictions on capital spending, it was not possible to approve the project.

The position is that the planning section of our Department is reviewing the accommodation requirements of the school. The review is currently under way and when completed, our Department will make further contact with the school management. I will keep the Deputy informed of developments on this issue because it is a serious matter.