Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Ceisteanna (41)

Kathleen Funchion


41. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans in place for an additional secondary school in eastern areas of Kilkenny city in order to meet the high demand for secondary school places for the 2019-20 school year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26791/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

My question is related to the demand for secondary school places, particularly in Kilkenny city. It is an issue we come across every year. What are the Minister's plans to open an additional secondary school in the eastern part of Kilkenny city to meet the high demand for secondary school places?

I thank the Deputy for the question. In April 2018 the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools in the next four years, from 2019 to 2022, inclusive. The announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department to assess future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country. While the announcement did not include a new post-primary school for Kilkenny city, although it does include a new 16 classroom primary school for Kilkenny to be established in September 2021, the requirement for new schools is being kept under ongoing review and, in particular, will have regard to the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

Officials from my Department recently met personnel from Kilkenny County Council when the council’s plans for housing in the Kilkenny area in the coming years were outlined. Further engagement is planned in that regard.

Where demographic data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one or a combination of the following: utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools; or the provision of a new school or schools. In that context, as the Deputy will be aware, building projects for five post-primary schools located in Kilkenny are included in my Department's school building programme.  Building projects for Kilkenny will provide additional capacity in the order of 600 additional places above September 2017 levels: Kilkenny CBS - 73 places; St. Kieran's College - 35 places; Pobail Scoil Osraí - 166 places; and Kilkenny city post-primary chool - 334 places. Significant works to improve and expand facilities at Presentation secondary school are also planned.

I had a feeling the Minister would respond on those lines. I raised this for several reasons. First, there is a large population on the east of Kilkenny city. The Minister raised housing, which is something that I was going to bring up. There has been more development of houses there, which is very welcome and, hopefully, it will be allocated by September, but it will increase the population on that side of the city. Many children there go to primary school on that side of the city but must then travel to the other side for post-primary schooling. They do not qualify for school transport, which is an ongoing issue, because they are regarded as living within reasonable distance, although practically it is a long distance to walk. I also raise the matter as we have an excellent Educate Together primary school but no Educate Together secondary school. Parents who have chosen to educate their children in that ethos have no option to continue that at second level. There are limited co-education secondary schools and, therefore, parents who send their schools to a primary school of mixed gender rarely have the opportunity to continue this at second level.

It is important that we continue to keep this under review and that, as new planning applications come in, there is communication between the Department and Kilkenny County Council officials. As we plan for the future, it is not about annual or two-year plans, but a ten-year investment of more than €8.4 billion in capital expenditure. We must consider whether capacity exists where schools have the opportunity to put in applications under the additional school accommodation scheme; whether there are solutions within existing infrastructure; and whether we are looking at a future where additional capacity will be required through new schools.

Circumstances change, and do so quickly. This happened recently in the Ashbourne area, as Deputy Thomas Byrne knows well.

I keep raising it. I have raised it approximately 15 times.

We can have all the long-term planning forecasting but it is important that Deputies, Senators and councillors have their ears close to the ground to keep us informed. I appreciate the Deputy raising it today.

The issue has become more prevalent in recent years. I welcome the Minister's statement that it will be kept under review but we will keep raising it. Schools in Kilkenny city are fully subscribed and even have waiting lists. People are also having to travel outside the city and then encounter the problem of school transport where they are seen as having chosen a school that is not closest to them, and, therefore, do not qualify for free travel. They must apply for concessionary tickets. The Minister knows what a nightmare that is. That is part of why this is a problem.

The Educate Together system deserves a secondary school and parents and children who have had the experience at primary level deserve to continue that into secondary school, if they wish.

It also gives an opportunity for additional autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes, which is something I raise here as often as possible. There will be three new-build secondary schools - the schools themselves are not new - such as Coláiste Pobal Osraí, the CBS, and the technical school. It should be impressed on them that they must have ASD classes. Information on this seems to mixed. The NSCE would have schools believe that they must have these ASD classes whereas the schools themselves seem to think differently.

Considerable investment has gone into the existing stock.

On transport, we cannot have a conversation on a different plan for transport and then consider where schools are to be located. We are in the same position with secondary schools now as we were when primary schools saw their demographics increase. Unfortunately, while we managed to maintain the capital budget in education as best we could during the difficult years, there are always legacy issues. The Deputy mentioned Kilkenny CBS, which sought an additional 73 places in its 2017 enrolment. The appointment of consultants to progress the new building project will commence this week. There is movement on several of these matters and I will be happy to share this information with her.