Herbertstown National School, May 2010

Adjournment Debate in Dail Eireann introduced by Dan Neville TD. ‘The need for an extension to Herbertstown National School Co. Limerick’, 18th May 2010

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this very important issue in the parish of Herbertstown. On behalf of the board of management, principal and staff of Herbertstown National School I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to sanction a devolved grant to enable the board of management to build an additional classroom, learning support room, general all-purpose room, staff room and office. This will enable the school to deal with the planned expansion in its number of pupils.

It is a rural school. It was built in 1943. It has three classrooms and a prefabricated section which is 20 years old. It is divided into three sections. One is used by the day resource teacher, one is used by the learning support teacher, one is used for a library and storage facility. While the boys have a cloakroom, the girls have to use the corridor for their coats, sporting gear, bags, shoes and other personal effects because the original girls’ cloakroom is used as an office. It has been converted to facilitate photocopying, filing cabinets and other office equipment. The room also stores art and craft supplies, mathematics equipment and other teaching supports. It is totally unsuitable for storing confidential files and reports.

The school enrolment in September 2009 was 70 pupils. It currently has applications to enrol 82 pupils for September 2010. These numbers will entitle the school to an extra mainstream teacher for 2011. There are still more enrolment forms outstanding so it is possible that the extra mainstream teacher may be appointed in September 2010. As well as an increase in the pupils numbers, there is enrolment for a junior infant pupil with autism in September 2010. Therefore, the school will apply for a full-time support resource officer, which will create a need for a new staffroom and toilet facilities to accommodate the extra staff. There is no accommodation for the new mainstream teacher or a full-time learning support resource teacher.

The school has no indoor facilities for physical education for the children and with the present emphasis on it in the new curriculum this is not acceptable and is unfair to the children. I commend the board of management, principal and staff for their excellent educational facilities in the current conditions. Obviously, pressure will come with the expansion of numbers and needs of the school. I ask the Minister to sanction a devolved grant to enable the board of management to build an additional classroom, learning support room, general all-purpose room, staff room and office.

An adequate site is available on the school grounds to facilitate this develop; there is no need to purchase a site to accommodate the required development. I urge the Minister to take our proposal seriously.

Deputy Barry Andrews: I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Coughlan. I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position on Herbertstown national school.

Modernising facilities in the existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. The Deputy will appreciate that the extent of the demand on the Department’s capital budget is enormous, providing, as it does, accommodation for new communities, additional accommodation for extra teachers which the Government has put into the system and modernising existing schools. However, huge inroads have been made in addressing those needs.

The Deputy will also be aware that the allocation for school buildings in 2010 is approximately €579 million, which represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the very real commitment of the Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation. However, the level of demand on the Department’s resources 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.

Turning to Herbertstown national school in particular, the Deputy will be aware that this school’s staffing complement comprises a principal, two mainstream teachers, one shared learning support teacher and one part-time resource teacher. As Deputy Neville pointed out, the school’s current accommodation consists of three permanent classrooms and temporary accommodation which is used for resource teaching. The school made an application for additional accommodation, consisting of a classroom, learning support room, office, GP room, staff room and toilets. I am pleased to advise that the school was approved a devolved grant to build an additional two classrooms to meet the school’s most immediate needs. The school was advised of that by letter on 7 May 2010.

I again thank the Deputy for raising the matter. I assure him that the Tánaiste is committed to meeting the needs of schools such as Herbertstown national school as resources allow.