Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Vol. 202 No. 13

School Patronage.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to outline the process undertaken by her Department to date in considering and awarding patronage of a new second level school in Lucan, County Dublin. There is ongoing confusion in Lucan and throughout the country about the process on which the Department embarks when considering the awarding of patronage of a second level school. Perhaps the matter could be clarified in the House tonight. What criteria does the Department operate when considering patronage of a school? The process must be made more transparent than it is.

In the past I have raised the need for the school building programme to be more transparent. This also applies to patronage. The process lacks transparency and there is a lack of public understanding. This must be addressed. I am aware that the Dáil is due to debate the issue tomorrow. I raise the matter with regard to the patronage of a second level school in south Lucan. Will the Minister of State outline how the VEC was awarded patronage and then received notification that the matter was under revision? Will he clarify whether it has been withdrawn or is under revision? According to a reply to a parliamentary question on the matter in the Dáil, the Department is awaiting the development of a new framework before the issue can be decided. At what stage is the development of the new framework and when will the final decision be made? A decision was made but then there was a change and a revision. At what stage is the process now?

I am concerned about this because there was general acknowledgement in the Department of the need for two new secondary schools in Lucan. However, in recent replies to parliamentary questions it appears to have changed its view and now states there is only a need for one school. This impacts on patronage and the issue of what bodies will be awarded patronage of the school. I ask the Minister of State and the Department to look again at the figures and the demographics which led to a downgrading of the need for a second school in Lucan. I believe the figures being used by the Department are outdated. The Minister of State should examine the figures being used by the Lucan south secondary school action group which are available on its website and on which detailed work was done. They have been revised again recently. They clearly show an increase of almost 3,000 children of secondary school age up to 2019. The Department should look at the figures again and give careful consideration to those produced by the Lucan south secondary school action group.

There is a need for a new secondary school in the Lucan area. There have been many problems at primary school level and we have no wish to see them replicated at second level. Children from Lucan should not have to travel outside the area as they have had to do, sometimes on long unsustainable journeys, to access second level education. This is a great opportunity to put in place two secondary schools in south Lucan. The facts and demographic figures show that two schools are clearly merited.

I ask the Minister of State to outline the Department's current position on the issue of patronage which has caused much concern, given that a decision was made and then withdrawn. Certainly, parents are concerned about what is happening. Fine Gael wishes to see patronage awarded to new bodies which are seeking it at second level. However, there is a very strong demand in the area, particularly from the Lucan south secondary school action group, that the issue of patronage awarded to the VEC be clarified with regard to the Clonburris site.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Coughlan. I thank the Senator for raising this matter, as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current issues surrounding recognition and patronage in general.

The Senator will be aware that section 10 of the Education Act 1998 deals with the recognition of new schools and sets out the factors that the Minister must take into account when considering such applications. The previous Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, stated that, given the changing nature of Irish society and the projected need for a number of post-primary schools to open in the medium term, the Department was considering a number of broad policy issues regarding the establishment of new post-primary schools. As part of this, consideration is being given to the setting up of a new framework relating to the establishment of new second level schools and their patronage. New schools, where only very initial planning has taken place, will be considered in the context of this framework when it is established.

The second level school in Lucan is the only such school where a VEC has been informed about patronage. It is not the case that patronage of this school has been withdrawn from County Dublin VEC; the position is that the issue will receive further consideration in light of the new framework. The consideration of the new framework is not delaying site acquisition or the planning, design and building of second level schools in any way. In addition to County Dublin VEC, an application has been made by Educate Together regarding the proposed new school in Lucan. Furthermore, a general application in relation to schools in developing areas has also been received from the Loreto Education Trust. It is the Tánaiste's intention to finalise the matter and convey a decision to all relevant parties at the earliest date possible.

The Senator had a number of other queries relating to figures. I will endeavour to get the information required. If there are any other queries, she might let me know about them now and I will follow up on them for her.

I ask the Minister of State to bring to the attention of the Department the census work that has been carried out by the Lucan south secondary school action group. The information is available on the group's website and I believe a copy was given to the Department. In the light of the reply to a previous parliamentary question, I urge the Department to examine the figures and reconsider its decision that the area does not require two new secondary schools. The figures prove beyond doubt that there is a need for them to cater for the group of children in the area approaching adolescence. I would be grateful if the Minister of State conveyed that information to the Department.