Dáil Éireann - Volume 568 - 12 June, 2003
Mr. Wall Mr. Wall
Mr. Wall: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, and the Minister for accepting this matter.
St. Patrick's boys' national school, Athy, has 206 pupils from second to sixth class. The board of management has a number of major problems at present, both structural and educational.
First, there is a need for urgent repairs to the basic facilities in the school that would permit the staff and pupils to have their basic needs addressed. At present an endless list of problems  exists that make this school unacceptable, to all intents and purposes, as a proper place of education. These items include the need for door replacement, electrical work, roof repairs, refurbishment of toilets, replacement of windows, window blinds and so on. A number of the toilets do not work and the blinds are such that they cannot be operated. The list is endless in this regard and all of this must be addressed as a matter or urgency.
From an education point of view, the school does not have the same entitlement in regard to status as its fellow primary school in the town, scoil Mhichil Naofa or, indeed, St. Brigid's post-primary school. I would be very grateful for a breakdown of the entitlements at present afforded to scoil Mhichil Naofa in regard to special teaching staff, funding and support and for the same information on St. Brigid's post-primary school.
I would also be grateful for the Minister of State's comments in relation to the discrepancies vis-à-vis the three schools. What criteria has the Department of Education and Science regarding such matters in other locations where there is a similar pattern to Athy? Have all those schools equal opportunities regarding teaching staff, facilities and so on or is Athy unique in that one primary school and one secondary school have such facilities while a third school, the boys' primary school, is way down the list in terms of such facilities?
While one welcomes the facilities that scoil Mhichil Naofa and St. Brigid's have attained, I understand they are seeking further support mechanisms regarding teacher facilities and so on and for improvements to school infrastructure. I fully support their applications, just as I supported previous applications for other facilities.
Athy was designated RAPID status in the past year. However, there has been no progress in regard to assisting this school in obtaining parity with its sister schools in the town despite the fact that it involves the same catchment area, pupils and so on. This is discrimination by the Department. It is totally unacceptable and must be addressed by the Minister as a matter of urgency.
There has been a proposal to align St. Patrick's national school and scoil Mhichil Naofa. However, there is no possibility of this occurring due to the catch-22 situation faced by the board of management of St. Patrick's, whereby the basic facilities needed to provide for a co-educational situation for boys and girls, such as proper toilets and so on, are not available in the school. Due to the serious nature of the present position and the health problems this creates for the pupils and staff of the school, the problem in regard to the furniture must be addressed irrespective of the alignment proposal.
This situation can be resolved, given the determination of the staff, the board of management  and the parents' council of the school. However, the Minister must play his part and provide the funding to refurbish the school and address the serious discrimination that exists between the schools by providing St. Patrick's with the necessary teaching and support staff to allow everyone to play a part in providing proper educational facilities at the school.
Mr. Treacy Mr. Treacy
Mr. Treacy: Gabhaim buíochas den Teachta Wall as ucht seans a thabhairt dom freagra cruinn, beacht a chur faoi bhráid na Dála ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter since it affords me the opportunity of outlining to the House the current position regarding the application received in the Department of Education and Science's planning and building unit for refurbishment and remedial works at St. Patrick's national school in Athy, County Kildare, and also the school's application for inclusion in the new disadvantaged programme.
The school in question caters for boys only and is one of three primary schools serving the needs of Athy. The other schools are scoil Mhichil Naofa, which caters for co-education from junior infants to first class and girls only from second to sixth class, and Athy model school, which caters for the Church of Ireland community.
An application to upgrade and refurbish facilities at St. Patrick's national school has been received in the Department. A similar application has been received from the school management authorities of scoil Mhichil Naofa. Both applications are under consideration in the planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Science. This process involves the consideration of all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends in the area and the overall accommodation requirements of the centre. As part of this process the possibility of the realignment of St. Patrick's and scoil Mhichil Naofa is being explored. It is envisaged that this realignment would take the form of junior and senior co-educational schools.
A meeting between the boards of management and trustee representatives of both schools and officials of the planning section of the Department was held in Tullamore on 20 May to discuss the proposed realignment. It was agreed that the boards of management of the two schools would meet to discuss the matter further and any matters for clarification or decisions reached would be conveyed to the Department of Education and Science. Pending the outcome of these discussions, the Department is unable to further progress the individual applications for capital grant aid at this stage.
With regard to the status of St. Patrick's school and disadvantage, the position, as the Deputy may be aware, is that Giving Children and Even Break was launched in 2001 to tackle educational  disadvantage at primary level. Schools participating in Giving Children and Even Break are in receipt of a range of additional supports, including teacher posts and other non-teaching supports to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils.
The additional supports to be provided reflect the level of concentration of pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in each school invited to participate in the programme. These levels of disadvantage were established as a result of a comprehensive survey of primary schools carried out by the Educational Research Centre in March and April of 2000 at the request of the Department of Education and Science. All of the schools identified as having pupils enrolled with characteristics of disadvantage have been invited to participate in Giving Children an Even Break.
Giving Children an Even Break has both an urban and rural dimension, as previous research has shown that educational disadvantage manifests itself differently in urban and rural settings. Scoil Phádraig Naofa is included in the urban dimension and is benefiting from the allocation of supplementary grant aid towards providing additional educational supports for the children concerned over the three year period. The school has been allocated a total of €3,205.61 for the 2002-03 school year.
 Schools categorised as urban in Giving Children an Even Break with the highest concentration of “at risk” pupils are being supported, where necessary, through staff allocations to implement reduced pupil-teacher ratios of 20:1 in junior classes – infants through second class – and 27:1 in senior classes – third through sixth class. The school was not considered eligible for additional teaching staff, based on the level of concentration of “at risk” pupils in the school as reflected in the Educational Research Centre survey outcome.
Representations from schools regarding the outcome of the survey carried out in 2000 from schools, including the school referred to by the Deputy, were referred by the Department of Education and Science to the Educational Research Centre for consideration. Following this process, the school authorities were informed in October 2002 that they did not qualify for any increase in the existing level of support provided under Giving Children an Even Break. The Department has received a further submission but, unfortunately, the appeals process is now complete. However, the points raised in the school's new submission will be considered in the context of any future disadvantage programmes in the country.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 13 June 2003.
Dáil Éireann 568 Schools Refurbishment.