Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 19 July, 1995

Adjournment Matters. - Fore (Westmeath) National School.

Mr. Cassidy: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me time to raise this matter which relates to the national school at Fore, County Westmeath. It was built in 1896, which will be 100 years ago next year. In that time, very little money has been spent in terms of modernising or renovating the school. Approximately 20 years ago, outside toilets were provided. However, students must leave their classrooms [1306] and cross a yard in all types of weather to use these facilities.

This matter relates to the position of teachers and students at present. Class numbers are in excess of 60 and the Department has granted an additional teacher, who will start teaching in the first week of September. There is also a remedial teacher in the school who has no room or facilities to teach the students other than the vestry of the local church. In this era of modernisation of our education system, the situation in which the students, parents' council, the board of management and the teachers find themselves is deplorable. An inspector has told the people in Fore that, if facilities are not improved, he will have to review the position of the remedial teacher. The provision of the prefab which I am calling for would, in the short term, alleviate the situation and allow the extra teacher to be appointed. There are two teachers in the school now, one teaching junior infants to second classes and the other teaching third to sixth classes.

Many eminent people started their education in Fore school. A Member of the other House of the Oireachtas, Deputy Flood, was educated in this school, as was his father, who distinguished himself over the years. Many other people in important professional positions across the world came out of the national school in Fore. It is a historic place of beauty and of importance to the Office of Public Works and to Westmeath County Council. People come to visit the seven wonders of Fore.

The basic necessity for the people living there is that a reasonable facility be granted for the primary education of their children. Because this school is almost 100 years old and there has been such a lack of investment over the years, with no existing toilets linked to the classrooms, no play area for students and a lack of teacher facilities, I call on the Department of Education first to provide a prefab as a matter of urgency to meet the requirement for the extra teacher and, second, to carry out a full and urgent examination of the school's needs before the autumn. These are [1307] basic demands which the Department should meet.

I compliment the parents' council and the board of management, who have worked tirelessly to try to improve facilities for the teachers and the students over the last number of years. Without the help of the Department, it is extremely difficult to continue in the present circumstances and I await the Minister's reply.

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): On behalf of the Minister for Education, I am glad of the opportunity Senator Cassidy has presented to clarify the position in relation to this matter.

The school requested one prefab on 30 June, 1995, to cater for an additional teacher due to be appointed from September 1995. The Senator will appreciate that it is not possible to organise additional permanent accommodation in a two month period. The provision of a permanent prefab requires full planning permission and approval from the fire authority. In view of the tight timescale involved, the best option is for the school to rent accommodation for the new school year. The Department of Education will contribute towards the rental costs.

The school has been in touch previously with the Department of Education concerning proposed renovations to the toilet block. Plans were formulated and subsequently the school authorities required some changes to them. In view of the fact that the question of additional classroom accommodation has now been raised, it would seem appropriate to undertake a comprehensive examination of the school's full accommodation requirements. This examination will be undertaken as a matter of urgency. The Department of Education will be in touch with the school authorities.

Mr. Cassidy: In relation to the September deadline for the extra teacher, what is the Department's position in the event of there not being additional [1308] space available to rent in the village of Fore?

Mr. Gilmore: The Department's response on this issue has been encouraging. The application for the permanent prefab was only made on 30 June and, as I indicated, it is not possible to make a permanent arrangement in that short space of time. The Department of Education will be in touch with the school authorities and the requirements of the school for September can be discussed at that stage.