Breen demands action on extension for Quin National School

October 29th, 2009 - Pat Breen

Speaking in Dail Eireann when he raised the situation regarding the need for an extension at Quin National School, Deputy Breen said I am delighted to see my two Government colleagues from County Clare are present to support me in the Chamber tonight. Such is their enthusiasm that I know they will give strong support to the project and facilitate a meeting between the Minister and a group from Quin so that we can get the extension to the school.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me to raise this matter in the House tonight. Quin national school is in urgent need of an extension to cater for the increased number of pupils, in particular, in the interest of the children’s education and for health and safety reasons. The school was originally built in 1960 and has had no extension to its facilities since 1980 when an extra classroom, general purpose room and a staff room were built. In the meantime the population of Quin has soared. There was a 32.3% increase in population between the 2002 and 2006 census.
In 2001 the application for major capital works was commenced under the former principal, Tomás Ó Síocháin. In October 2005 an application was lodged with the Department of Education and Science. In 2006 a technical visit was granted and the Department acknowledged that it would review the accommodation for a principal and 12 teachers. Since then the entire process has come to a standstill. When I raised the matter in the House with the Minister on the 19 June 2008 he said that a technical visit had not taken place but indicated that he would arrange a visit in the near future when resources allowed and when the project was ready to progress through the programme. When the technical visit failed to take place I raised the issue with the Minister again on 8 October 2008. At that time the Minister changed his mind and could not give a timeframe for the further progression of the project.
Last Monday I visited the school and saw the conditions for myself in which the principal, Anne Fitzpatrick, and her colleagues have to teach children every day. They do an excellent job under trying conditions.
There are 224 pupils in the school and they currently have only four mainstream classrooms for nine mainstream teachers. They have no rooms for three special education teachers, which means that two of the teachers work in prefabs and one teacher has to use the staff room. The situation is intolerable. The office of the school principal is a cloakroom.
I saw the classrooms in the main building where 29 to 30 children were cramped into tiny rooms. As far as I am concerned, overcrowding is a health and safety issue and it cannot be allowed to continue. The general purpose and storage facilities are almost non-existent at the school. The school operates with seven prefabs and the pupils and their teachers get drenched on a regular basis moving from one building to another. They have applied for another prefab. However, currently there is no place to put it and the only option appears to be to send 15 staff members to a tiny cloakroom to make room for it when it is provided.
More than €500,000 has been spent by the Minister on temporary accommodation to date. How much more will be spent given the likelihood of other prefabs being required up to 2013? That money would go a long way towards covering the cost of the extension at the school and would provide much needed work for the construction industry. The other problem facing the school is that by 2013 it might have to turn children away. Even accounting for a slowdown in the construction sector, it is estimated that the school will have to cater for 310 children by 2013.
Another big problem for the school is that most of its minor works grant is swallowed up by the constant need to maintain an old building. That building is damp, outdated and has electrical and sewerage problems. In 2009 it received a minor works grant of €8,793.00 and to date it has spent €18,517.00 on remedial works.

Quin has a vibrant community sector and the local school has an active and hard working board of management. It has raised approximately €220,000 from the local community to purchase and develop a field to provide additional recreational facilities and to assist with the extension of the school.
Staff, pupils and parents are totally disillusioned and fed up waiting for this extension to be given the green light. I hope the Minister will shed some light on the issue tonight, given the presence of my two colleagues. While teachers are made to teach in intolerable conditions in schools such as the one in Quin, €386 million remains unspent by the Department in the schools building capital allocation programme. There is no excuse, therefore, why the project cannot be progressed.
I appeal to my colleagues, to the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and to the Minister for Education and Science to meet with the teachers and the board of management. They should listen to their valid case and give the children and people of Quin the extension they deserve and not leave them in the poor conditions that they have had to put up with in recent years. This is a very important project.

Deputy Barry Andrews: I am happy to reply on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, Minister for Education and Science, who, unfortunately, cannot be present. He has asked me to acknowledge Deputy Breen’s considerable input into this issue and that of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, and Deputy Dooley, who are also present.
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position on Scoil na Mainistreach in particular.
In March 2001, Scoil na Mainistreach applied to the Department for an extension comprising one classroom, a resource room, a learning support room, a library, a medical room and a staff room.
The school has a current staffing level of a principal and seven mainstream teachers, plus one developing post. It also has the services of three learning support-resource teachers. Its current accommodation consists of five mainstream permanent classrooms, three prefabricated mainstream classrooms plus some ancillary accommodation. The school was recently approved for funding for the provision of additional accommodation for one mainstream classroom.
As the Deputy will be aware, all applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings and site capacity, leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of that process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. Those criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.
Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. That is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, of which band one is the highest and band four the lowest. Band one projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exist, but where there is a high demand for pupil places while a band four project makes provision of desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities.
Each band rating has a number of sub-categories which more specifically describe the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them.

The application from Scoil na Mainistreach has been assigned a band rating of 2.2. That reflects the fact that a school has a deficit of mainstream accommodation which constitutes a significant proportion of the schools overall accommodation needs but that the condition of the existing accommodation is adequate. As the Deputy will appreciate, modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth are a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. However, the level of demand on the school building programme is such that all projects cannot be carried out together. They will have to be carried out over time in a structured and coherent manner and that is the reasoning behind the Department’s published prioritisation criteria.

The project for Scoil na Mainistreach will be carried out consistent with that approach. In the intervening period, the school can apply for temporary accommodation to meet its needs if that is necessary. I again thank the Deputy for raising the matter and assure him that the Minister is committed to advancing the pr