Records show ‘major backlog’ of schools in need of upgrade

Basic building costs have increased by almost 40 per cent since 2014

A major backlog of hundreds of schools which need to be upgraded cannot be progressed with existing capital plans, according to internal Department of Education records.

The department’s secretary general warned earlier this year that refurbishment of existing schools – including providing modern science labs and “fit for purpose” physical education facilities – was essential, and could not be viewed as discretionary.

“The necessary focus on catering for demographics has also led to a major backlog of projects to upgrade the basic fabric of existing education buildings that cannot currently be progressed within the existing capital plan,” wrote Seán Ó Foghlú, the department’s secretary general, in January this year.

He issued the warning in a letter to the Department of Public Expenditure in relation to a draft version of the National Development Plant.


The Irish Times reported recently that there are about 575 school applications for major refurbishments which the department has not been able to prioritise to date.

In addition, there are just over 340 schools on existing building programmes which remain to be delivered.

Upgrading prefabs

Capital plans for the department have been agreed until 2021, which place a big focus on building new schools, as well as refurbishing existing ones and upgrading prefabs.

However, the letter warns that upwards costs pressures are having a “significant impact on what this department can expect to achieve with the confirmed capital allocations out to 2021”.

The letter stated that significant increases were needed in the new National Development Plan due to a 'legacy of underinvestment' and demographic pressures

It notes that basic building costs have increased by almost 40 per cent since 2014, while sectoral employment orders – or registered employment agreements – in the construction industry are likely to accelerate inflation to well above these levels.

These are in addition to a 7 per cent increase in school-building costs linked to “near zero energy building” standards.

Aligning the construction of new schools with the new national planning framework will “further increase the cost of schools provision”, it says, given new requirements to build in more complex urban sites.

The letter, released under the Freedom of Information Act, stated that significant increases were needed in the new National Development Plan due to a “legacy of underinvestment” and demographic pressures.

These extra costs were “essential and cannot be viewed as discretionary”, Mr Ó Foghlú warned.

In a statement, a spokesman for the department said that following a mid-term capital review last autumn, it secured an additional €332 million, boosting investment in school infrastructure in the period 2018 to 2021.

In addition, the department secured a €8.4 billion investment programme for schools buildings under the new National Development Plan. This represented a 70 per cent increase over the pervious 10-year period.

Digital technology

This would provide for prefab replacement, a “deep energy retrofit” of schools built prior to 2008, modernisation of science and PE facilities, and investment in digital technology over the coming years.

This will also include the provision of 50 large scale school-building projects and 20,000 school places in new buildings to ensure every child has a school place.

“In total, the department’s capital budget will increase from €745 million today to over €1.1 billion in 2021. This shows the huge priority that Government puts on education,” the spokesman added.

Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne said was "astonishing" that up to 575 school building projects seemed to be "on hold indefinitely due to a lack of available funds".

“Pupils are being taught in substandard accommodation with a 25 per cent increase in the use of prefab classrooms,” he said.

He added that Minister for Education Richard Bruton clearly needed additional funding.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent