New commuter belt school fails to open due to zero enrolments

Lack of demand casts doubt on Department of Education’s planning by demographics

Unopened Dunshaughlin Community National School: “I’m not convinced that the department’s methods for measuring the demand for new schools is fully accurate,” says Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil education spokesman. Photograph: Alan Betson

Unopened Dunshaughlin Community National School: “I’m not convinced that the department’s methods for measuring the demand for new schools is fully accurate,” says Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil education spokesman. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The opening of a new school in a busy commuter belt area of Co Meath has been deferred because it did not enrol any pupils.

The Department of Education fast-tracked the construction of Dunshaughlin Community National School earlier this year based on its demographic projections which indicated there was an urgent need for a new school.

However, the eight-classroom school did not open in September as planned, due to a lack of enrolments.

A teacher who was hired has since been redeployed, while a new school principal is processing enrolments for the coming year.

It was one of 42 new schools announced by the Government which are being built between now and 2022.

Fianna Fail’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the development raised questions over the accuracy of the department’s school population figures.

By contrast, a new school in the Ashbourne area of Co Meath – which, Mr Byrne said, the department only agreed to build following representations from oversubscribed local schools and public representatives – was heavily subscribed.

Ashbourne Community National School is thriving. The latest figures show it has 94 pupils enrolled,” he said.

Measuring methods

“We were told by the department that the demographics didn’t support the construction of a new school in Ashbourne. In the end, it took a delegation of local schools to the department, as well as local representatives, to convince the department that we needed it,” he said,

“I’m not convinced that the department’s methods for measuring the demand for new schools is fully accurate or that it is taking into account all new local housing developments.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the department said information on school enrolments and child-benefit data allows it to map where children are living or attending school.

“This information provides a degree of certainty in projecting demand in an area in future years,” the spokesman said.

He said, as part of this exercise, the department engages with local authorities to obtain up-to-date information on significant new residential development.

Residential development

“The pace of completion of planned housing and occupancy of houses is by its nature less predictable and can vary.

“Accordingly, while the department takes into account planned additional residential development, the timing of completion of such development can be subject to change depending on local circumstances.”

It said while the patron of the new school in Dunshaughlin, Louth Meath Education and Training Board, had confirmed there were no enrolments for the 2019/2020 school year, it expected enrolments from a new local housing development which has been delayed.

It added that the patron has received “significant interest” for September 2020 enrolments for the new school.

In the context of further strengthening the demographic analysis process, the department said it intended to have additional engagement with patron bodies in relation to their local knowledge on school place requirements.?