Quinn unveils schools programme

 

The Government has announced details of a €1.5 billion programme to provide new schools and extend existing schools across the country.

A total of 106 primary schools and 43 secondary schools will be built over the next five years. Large-scale extensions will be added to 65 primary schools and to 49 secondary schools. Eight special schools will also be built and extensions added to four more.

The plan will provide over 100,000 permanent school places, of which over 80,000 will be new places. The remainder will be the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation.

An estimated 15,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs will be created over the lifetime of the project.

It is the first time the Department of Education has published a five-year plan for school buildings.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said the programme was driven by a demographic increase which will see the number of children at school increase by 70,000 by 2018 - by over 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post primary. Second level enrolment is expected to continue to rise until 2024.

According to the Central Statistics Office, 19,950 births were registered in the first quarter of 2011 - the highest number recorded in any quarter since the series began in 1960.

"We have to ensure that every child growing up in Ireland can access a physical school place," the Minister said. "Our programme unveiled today means that schools and parents will be able to plan much better for their children’s education at a time when enrolments at both primary and second level are rising dramatically."

Schools due to be completed this year include seven in Dublin Fingal, five in Co Meath, six in Co Cork and three in Co Monaghan.

A full list of the schools can be seen on the Department’s website.

Schools not included in today's plan that were announced for initial inclusion in the building programme will still progress to final planning stages in anticipation of further funds being available to the department.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to meet these targets. All of the schools being announced today are scheduled to go ahead. Some many stall for reasons of planning and in that case other schools will take their place,” Mr Quinn said.

Separately, asked about warning letters to teachers who took up to 260 days leave in one year on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Quinn said it was part of “tightening up” on sick leave in the public sector and that there would be “financial consequences down the road” for teachers who did not satisfactorily explain their absence.

“It’s part and parcel of improving productivity in the system. It should be rememberd that it is only two per cent of teachers in total. Abseentism and sick leave is lower in the teaching sector than in the public sector in general,” he said.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) welcomed the announcement of the school building initiative but warned that similar investment must be made to at least maintain current pupil teacher ratios.

“This programme is absolutely necessary to provide the brick and mortar facilities that the country’s growing school-going population will require in the coming years," said TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said. "However, it is equally essential that these children be afforded at least the same level of service as those currently in the education system if they are to be allowed every chance to reach their full potential.

"At a very minimum, the Government needs to commit to maintaining the current pupil teacher ratio as we enter into a most crucial period of our history. Our growing school-going population is our greatest asset and demands investment."

Fianna Fáil welcomed the investment but said many of the schools listed as new projects had already been announced and are at an advanced stage of planning or construction. 

The party's education spokesaman Brendan Smith said the Government's insistence on "over-spinning" every announcement undermines the value of the investment.

"It is disingenuous to claim that 275 new schools have been announced for the first time today. Many of these projects have already been announced and some are at an advanced stage of planning or construction, " he said. "Minister Quinn has not increased investment in school building as promised, but has instead repackaged a number of previous announcements to inflate the overall figure announced today."