Analysis: 12,000 extra schools places needed in 2018

While 1,300 extra teaching posts are due next year, 550 of them will simply keep pace with demographic growth

The population bulge is set to continue into our creaking third-level sector. That’s why €367m  has been allocated for capital projects for the higher education sector between 2018 and 2021

The population bulge is set to continue into our creaking third-level sector. That’s why €367m has been allocated for capital projects for the higher education sector between 2018 and 2021

 

South Kildare, like many parts of Dublin’s rapidly-expanding commuter belt, is under acute pressure. The swelling population around Newbridge and beyond means many second-level schools are at capacity, leaving parents worried about where to send their children.

The population climbed at a rate of 140 per cent of the State’s overall growth rate in the five-year period between the 2011 census and 2016 census. The proportion of 13- to 18-year-olds has jumped by 16 per cent in that time, and is set to climb by a further 25 per cent over the next five years.

“School places are running out,” says Paula Carroll, spokeswoman for a campaign group seeking an Educate Together secondary school for the area. “By current projections over 400 young children won’t have any place to go when they finish primary school in nine year’s time.”

In many ways the challenges of making sure there are enough school places to catch up with our growing population is one of the biggest – though often hidden – challenges facing the education system.

This week’s budget has dedicated €745 million to capital projects next year. The bulk of this money will go to creating an additional 12,000 schools places and a further 3,000 replacement places next year, along with acquiring new sites for school buildings.

New schools, of course, require staff. While some 1,300 additional teaching posts are due to come on-stream next year, almost 550 of them will be to simply keep pace with demographic growth.

Overcrowding

The remainder will be used to ease overcrowding at primary level, along with the restoration of some guidance counselling posts and additional teachers for special needs. And that’s just primary and secondary.

The population bulge is set to continue into our creaking third-level sector, which is already under acute pressure. That’s why €367 million has been allocated for capital projects for the higher education sector between 2018 and 2021.

This is in addition to €200 million worth of projects which are being selected to progress as part of a public-private partnership programme for the higher education sector.

The Department of Education says this will allow for a “new programme of infrastructure renewal”, focused on large-scale refurbishment and replacement projects which are essential to “expand capacity, address health and safety issues, and/or improve quality in areas of key skills needs”.

The department, to its credit, has been doing an impressive job of keeping pace with our growing population at primary and secondary level – but third-level is under real pressure.

Demographic pressures

All signs are that there will be a few years before there is respite from demographic growth pressures.

The primary population is on course to peak next year, matching the highest level recorded since the baby boom of the 1980s.

The second-level population, meanwhile, is set to reach a record high of 416,000 by 2025.

Population projections beyond a four or five-year period, however, can be difficult to project given migration flows and fertility rates, which have been falling gradually since peaking in 2010, but are projected to even out soon, relieving pressure on the system.

None of this, however, will be of much comfort to parents in south Kildare and others places whose children are stuck on lengthy waiting lists for secondary schools.