Sports halls at centre of €12bn plan for school investment

Pledge comes after PE made a Leaving Cert subject and childhood obesity concerns

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: Investment will ensure children and the next generation will ‘get the best possible start in life’   Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: Investment will ensure children and the next generation will ‘get the best possible start in life’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Government has pledged to spend millions of euro over the coming decade to ensure all secondary school students have access to “state of the art” sports and PE halls.

The move forms part of an investment package of almost €12 billion for education to be announced later today.

Hundreds of schools have been struggling with outdated facilities or prefabs and have had applications for facilities such as PE halls turned down over recent years.

The introduction of PE as a Leaving Cert subject, along with concerns over childhood obesity, has helped focus attention on the need for proper sports facilities in many schools.

Today’s funding announcement provides new details on the national development plan – known as Project Ireland 2040 – which was published earlier this year.

It promises a 70 per cent increase in school capital funding over the next decade to build new schools and modernise existing ones.

Along with new and upgraded PE halls, there will be a focus on modernising science labs and providing digital equipment in schools and energy-saving upgrades.

However most of this is likely to take place in the latter half of the coming decade.

More immediately, the plan estimates that 600 prefabs will be replaced in the coming years on foot of construction projects beginning this year and next. It says this will end the long-term use of prefabs by 2021.

Despite the scale of investment being announced, officials could not say yesterday whether all ageing schools in need of upgrades will get them within the next decade.

Waiting applications

Internal documents seen earlier this year by The Irish Times showed there were 575 school applications waiting for major refurbishments.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said increased funding will provide a “pathway forward for dealing with all of these applications”.

The capital budget for higher education, which was slashed as part of austerity-era cost-cutting, is also to treble, with €500 million to be targeted at a number of key projects.

They include refurbished science and technology facilities at Dundalk IT, new engineering facilities for Limerick IT and upgrades to GMIT’s Castlebar campus.

In addition, it will part-fund a major new “future tech” building in DCU and a new sports science facility at IT Tallaght.

There will also be a new dedicated capital budget for the further education and training sector of €300 million to upgrade facilities over the coming decade,

In a statement ahead of the formal launch today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the level of investment will ensure this generation of children and the next will “get the best possible start in life”.

“I am particularly pleased that we’ll be investing in PE halls – modernising old ones and building new ones – to ensure all post-primary students can use state of the art PE facilities,” he said.

“This will be especially important as we phase in PE as a Leaving Cert exam subject. Education doesn’t just drive economic success, it’s also crucial to giving everyone the opportunity to fulfil their full potential, in all parts of the country.”

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the investment is aimed at fulfilling the Government’s plan to make the “Irish education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.”

However, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the Government’s record on delivering so far was underwhelming.

“We are inundated with queries from schools who have been waiting for years to know when their schools will be upgraded,” he said.

“Progress is also very slow in delivering any of the 42 new schools announced last April. None of this gives me any confidence that this will be delivered.”