Bruff FCJ

Adjournment Debate, Dail Eireann. Ard Scoil Mhuire Second Level School, Bruff, Co. Limerick – 2nd June 2010 – Introduced by Dan Neville TD

Deputy Dan Neville

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue on behalf of the pupils and their parents, in Bruff and surrounding communities. Ard Scoil Mhuire, FCJ, in Bruff has proposed that the school will be closed in two to three years unless an alternative solution can be found. I am asking the Minister to intervene with an alternative solution to allow the school to continue to survive. The school is quite big with in excess of 250 pupils and most pupils from the primary school in Bruff transfer to the Ard Scoil Mhuire secondary school. The school is very concerned about the situation that has arisen.

The decision was taken without consultation with members of the community representative body. The FCJ school is a magnificent institution with a history of great all round education. For a long number of years pupils excelled academically, socially and on the sports field. The local community, which has contributed so much to the school in partnership with successive generations of FCJ sisters over the past 150 years, feels it has been shut out of the decision making on this matter. The school is a central element of the community and its closure will have a detrimental impact not only on the education of our children, but on the social and business balance of the community as a whole. Pupils receive a personalised education and teachers go out of their way to help them on both a personal and educational level. Many of these children have been together since play-school and have developed strong ties not only with each other but with the community. There is an enormous community aspect to the school.

The adverse effect the proposed closure of Ard Scoil Mhuire will have on the pupils, who relate so well to the school, is of extreme concern. Local housing has been purchased by families with young children who need to be adjacent to a school. The school has attracted people to live in Bruff. There is also a good relationship between the school and older residents, many of whom take part in a project which involves pupils senior members of the community to use computers. Closing the school would create an imbalance in the area leaving fewer young people and many elderly residents in the area. I cannot believe there is a compelling or any argument for closing the school, particularly in light of the fact that Bruff has a growing community and the school population is expected to grow rather than shrink in the coming years. Financial proposals put forward showed how funding could be secured, not only from people in the parish of Bruff but from several of the neighbouring parishes.

I would like to provide a brief history of the school. The sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, FCJs, arrived in Bruff from France in 1856 at the invitation of the then parish priest, Dean Cussen, and provided for primary and secondary schooling for girls. The building commenced in that year. In 1987, an addition or extension to the school building provided seven classrooms, a home economics room, a kitchen and staff room. I put it to the Minister that the Department should support the continuation of the school. Due to the fact the FCJ sisters propose to pull out, the Department needs to intervene to ensure the school’s contribution to the educational needs of Bruff and the surrounding communities continues into the future.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey)

I am pleased to take this adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Mary Coughlan, the Minister for Education and Skills. I thank Deputy Neville for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the current position with regard to Ard Scoil Mhuire, Bruff.

In general, the forward planning section of the Department has identified in excess of 40 priority areas throughout the country where significant additional accommodation will be required at primary and post-primary level in the medium term. Factors under consideration include population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and capacity of existing schools to meet demand for places. Having considered these factors, decisions will be taken on the means by which emerging needs will be met within the area.

Ard Scoil Mhuire FCJ was originally established in 1859 as an all girls boarding school. The school went co-educational from 1969 and the boarding school closed in 2001. The school has experienced a steady decline in enrolment in recent years. Since 2000-2001, enrolment has declined by 29% from 379 students to 268 students in the 2009-2010 school year. The Department of Education and Skills is not in receipt of any current application for major funding from the school authority. However, the school has, in recent years, received a number of capital grants for works of a small to medium scale nature to ensure that the building remains in reasonable condition and can continue to serve the needs of the pupils enrolled. These grants have included, a grant for a new dust extraction system, which was approved for the school in 2004 at a cost of over €28,000. In addition, the Department approved funding in the amount of €82,643 for toilet facilities under the summer works scheme in 2007. However, I understand the school authority did not proceed with this particular project due to issues relating to the school building being a listed building. The Department also approved €74,881 for a home economics room upgrade under the summer works scheme 2009 and these moneys have been drawn down. In May 2009, the Department approved €260,717 under the emergency works scheme for electrical upgrade works at the school. I understand that these works were completed in 2009.

In more recent times, Department officials have had a series of meetings with the trustees of the school. The trustees expressed some concern about the future viability of the school in light of the trend in enrolments at the school in recent years, which as I have mentioned earlier, have declined to the current level of 268 students. At these meetings, the trustees of the school indicated to the officials that they were considering a number of options in relation to the future of the school and its viability. The Department understands that the trustees have subsequently met with the school community, including the board of management, staff and representatives of parents from the school to inform them of their concerns on its viability. However, as yet, the trustees have not yet formally notified the Department of Education and Skills regarding their intentions as to the long term future of the school. When the trustees have formally notified the Department on this matter, the situation will be considered further.

As part of this consideration, the Department will review overall provision of post-primary education in the area and the situation of other post-primary schools nearby, with a view to devising a long term solution which meets the requirements of the broader community, while also providing value for money in terms of education provision. This will also take into account demographic trends and the overall pattern of enrolments in the area, both at post-primary level and also at primary level, with a view to identifying likely future requirements at post-primary level in this area.

I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding Ard Scoil Mhuire.