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 Header Item School Accommodation Provision (Continued)
 Header Item School Accommodation Provision

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace] It is beyond me how Wexford fares so poorly in so many areas. Many issues start with education. It is not without reason that unemployment in Wexford is over 22%, that we have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country, that we have high rates of problems with literacy and that we have one of the highest suicide rates. Education must be a vital factor in this but right now, Wexford is being poorly served in educational terms.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As I stated at the outset, building projects have been approved for Loreto secondary school and Wexford CBS, which will provide increased capacity. As a result of the information that came to us last week through that meeting attended by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, my Department is making contact with each post-primary school to request details of their enrolment lists for September 2016. That will allow us find out if there is an accommodation shortfall and we will then work with schools to address that. All over the country, people may be on waiting lists for two or three different schools.

There are five secondary schools in Wexford town. These include the Education and Training Board school of Selskar College, St. Peter's College, Loreto Presentation and the Christian Brothers. We will collate the information on the pressures that all those schools are under to see if there is an issue to be addressed. The projection for the Wexford area indicates there will be an increase in pupil numbers between 2015 and 2021 within the school feeder area of approximately 200 students, with numbers going from 3,298 to 3,495. If we get any further information, that will be factored into any intervention required.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace It appears the figures on the ground are different. I am surprised the Minister, Deputy Howlin, did not bring back a starker picture because of what we hear from parents in the area.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan He gave us a full picture.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace It is good that work on Loreto is starting. It is interesting that one cannot open a regional newspaper now without seeing somebody from the Government parties turning a sod. What was the Government at for five years?

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English What does the Deputy want?

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace All of a sudden there is a surge to do something.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English It is called a recovery. There are more jobs and money about.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I do not understand how for five years-----

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Schools were being built in the past five years.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace -----the Government did so little in this area.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan That is not right.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace It is a bit like the idea that people should vote for the Labour Party and it will repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution. What has the party done in the past five years and why did it not repeal the amendment then?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan We did a lot. We had the marriage equality referendum, for example.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace It is beyond me how the party operates.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Much work was done in the school building area over the past five years, despite the state of the economy. There should be fair credit given to my predecessor, Deputy Quinn, and the Government for ensuring that we did not leave children without school places and that we made projections and built schools. I am using the figures that we have for the Wexford area but, by all means, the Deputy should tell us if we find there has been a surge of which we have not been aware. We use the likes of child benefit figures to find out how many children are being born in an area in order to plan ahead. I assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, made it very clear that these waiting lists exist but we want to collate the figures to get the exact number of young people who will seek places in post-primary schools in Wexford. We will address the issue in co-ordination with the schools.

School Accommodation Provision

 7. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan her views on the construction of an additional secondary school in south Wexford, given the long waiting lists for schools in the region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43784/15]

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace This question is related to the previous question. Rather than repeating what I have said, I will discuss another dimension of the issue, although I realise it is not raised directly in the question. Many of these projects are operated under the public private partnership, PPP, system. I have put questions to the different Departments, including the Department of Education and Skills, asking for information on value for money with regard to the use of PPPs for school projects. It is nearly impossible to get information about this. The European Union does not allow us to borrow money on the markets to invest in infrastructure like schools so we are driven into the hands of PPPs. Does the Minister agree that the European Union should address this and the Government should challenge it on the issue?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As I advised the Deputy earlier, on 17 November I announced that four primary schools and nine post-primary schools will open in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the outcome of the latest demographic exercises conducted by my Department. My officials use a geographical information system to identify where the pressure for additional school places will arise. The system uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Department of Social Protection in addition to information from the Department's own databases.

The demographic exercise does not indicate a requirement at this point for a new post-primary school for the south Wexford region but my officials are monitoring the position and will keep the demographic data for the area under ongoing review, taking into account updated enrolment data and the impact of planned expansion of capacity in schools in the region. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, last week met representatives of the five second level schools in Wexford town to discuss the pressures they currently face. It was agreed that the principals will share the details of those who are enrolled for next year with the Department so we can identify whether these are cases where the same children are enrolled in multiple schools or if there are other factors which are creating unanticipated pressure on Wexford schools.

With regard to the Deputy's opening remarks, PPPs have been used in a relatively small number of cases and the outcome has been very satisfactory from the perspective of the schools involved. That is certainly the case in what is reported to me. By and large, the vast majority of schools built in Ireland are funded through the public purse. Even in the worst of times we have been able to make provision for schools and extensions where they were needed.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace Will the Minister indicate if any of the four projects currently planned for Wexford are PPPs? I wrote to at least six Departments seeking information on PPPs, including the Minister's Department. The stock answer is: "In making the decision, I have considered the public interest and, on balance, I am satisfied that the public interest would not be better served in this instance by the release of information." In other words, it is in the public interest to give people the mushroom treatment; that is plenty of darkness and loads of manure. I do not understand the idea of a freedom of information request if the public cannot access the information.

The Minister mentioned primary schools and it is interesting that the Irish National Teachers' Organisation recently stated "90% of children in Wexford primary schools are being educated in classes larger than the EU average". My God, how frightening a figure is that? Another statistic indicates that three from ten pupils in primary schools in Wexford are in classes of 30 or more. Is that not a crisis level?

I understand that the Minister might not have the information on PPPs now but it would be great if she could revert to me on the projects planned in Wexford. It would be great to know how many of them are likely to be PPPs, if any. What is the overall cost to the State?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan In general, the percentage of schools built through PPPs is very low but we can get the Deputy the specific information for Wexford. These are generally done in bundles and the projects are put out to tender. It is a tendering process like any other, so the information is available.

We managed to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in the most recent budget. We have very large classes and that is something I wanted to address but we did not have the money to do it up to this year. We have reduced the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools by one point and we have also reduced it in post-primary schools by a percentage of a point. I have indicated that part of this process should be used to improve the offering of guidance in post-primary schools and to address some of the middle management issues identified by schools. Schools would have lost some people below the principal level who take responsibility in schools, and the indication is there is a real problem in that respect. We will use some of the funding to address that issue. We all want to see class sizes reduced as soon as the finance permits. We have brought it to a point in primary schools this year.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Minister has stated the Government did not have the money to do it until now. I know PPP payments are current expenditure rather than capital. The Government can borrow money at 1.7% and it could do so for school building rather than being pushed into the arms of the PPPs - their cost can be up to 15%. It is surely a no-brainer.


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