Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Ceisteanna (31)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

31. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education when approval will issue in respect of a building project for a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40010/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

My question relates to Coláiste Dún an Rí in Kingscourt, County Cavan. The school opened in August 2016 and has already exceeded its capacity. The projected attendance at the school was 450 but, after five years, the current enrolment is 530. The indications are that the enrolment numbers will continue to grow. It is a highly regarded school that has been very successful. Cavan and Monaghan ETB, the school, the board of management and the wider school community are very anxious that the application for additional permanent accommodation should be progressed by the Department as soon as possible. I appreciate the opportunity I had to discuss the matter with the Minister some months ago.

I wish to acknowledge the Deputy's personal interest in moving this issue forward and his engagement with me on the matter on several occasions. I can confirm that the Department is in receipt of an application for additional school accommodation from the school authority referred to by the Deputy. The application is currently being assessed and, once it is completed, the school authority will be informed of the outcome.

When capacity issues arise, they may not be as a result of a lack of accommodation. They may be driven by certain other factors, such as a duplication of applications if pupils have applied for a place in several schools in the area. Another factor may be that pupils are unable to get a place in their preferred school but there are places in other schools in the town or area. Some towns or areas have single-sex schools and although places may be available in such schools, they may not be available to all pupils. There is also the issue of external draw, that is, pupils coming from outside the local area. The true extent of any capacity issue will only become known once these issues are discussed with the relevant school authorities.

Similar to the process adopted in advance of the current academic year, my Department is engaging with patron bodies, including the patron in question, to identify particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming year which may necessitate action.

I was closely involved with former Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, a predecessor of the Minister's, in getting the school approved for Kingscourt. There was much cynicism that there was no need for a school in the area. The projection at the time by the Department and the vocational education committee was that an enrolment of 450 would be adequate capacity. Thankfully, the current enrolment is 530 and the projected enrolment for 2024 is 815. Thankfully, there is substantial employment in the area. There has been significant growth in population and each of the feeder primary schools has recorded a growth in enrolment in recent years. With the continuation in movement of population to the area and in light of the number of houses being built there, it is evident that the feeder primary schools will continue to grow, which will provide more and more students for Coláiste Dún an Rí. I had the opportunity to visit the school some months ago after classes had finished for the day and I saw at first hand the pride that the principal and all the staff take in ensuring that the best possible educational services are delivered to all students attending the school.

I am aware that when the school opened in 2016 it was to cater for 400 pupils and its current enrolment is 530. There has been significant growth there. I know the application has been with the Department since April 2019. For the information of the Deputy, discussions are ongoing with the ETB to agree the long-term projected enrolment for the school. I am informed that this process is very close to completion. I am aware that the application the school has made is for 11 general classrooms and eight additional specialist rooms. On the positive side, the discussions with the ETB to finalise the projected enrolment so that we do not find ourselves in a similar position further down the line in terms of capacity and enrolment are nearing completion.

I thank the Minister. At the request of Councillor Clifford Kelly, the chairman of the board of management of Coláiste Dún an Rí, I met the parents association and some of the school staff. The pride they take in their school was clear, as were the precautions they put in place. Every safety guideline they have been given by public health and the Department regarding the provision of education at the present time has been implemented very strictly.

Councillor Kelly has been a powerful advocate for the school for many years. I have worked closely with him and other public representatives and the local community. John Kearney, the CEO of Cavan and Monaghan ETB, and his colleagues, along with Fergal Boyle, the principal of the school, and his staff colleagues all work together as a team. They are determined to get this application over the line to have that additional accommodation provided.

I am aware of the long-term projections the ETB provided in its application. I did some homework on the matter and I have to say the projected enrolment of 815 by 2024 is relatively conservative. I have no doubt that the people who provided the Department with the application are absolutely solid and that additional accommodation is needed. I would appreciate it if the matter could be advanced as soon as possible.

I appreciate the work that has been done to date. The Deputy referenced many individuals who have contributed to the development of the school. The fact that its enrolment went from 400 to 530 and is now projected to rise further is testament to the hard work, determination and generosity of so many who were willing to work on a common agenda, namely, the betterment of education provision in an area. I wish to acknowledge that. The Department is currently finalising with the ETB the projected figures. They will be adjudicated on as quickly as possible. I thank the Deputy for his determination and focus in moving this issue forward.