Seanad Éireann - Volume 168 - 17 October, 2001

Adjournment Matters. - School Staffing and Accommodation.

  Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, to the House. I wish to raise the need for the Minister for Education and Science to sanction as a matter of urgency the provision of extra accommodation and the appointment of an extra teacher at Fuerty national school, County Roscommon, roll number 18194P.

  I am disappointed the Minister is not present as this is a very important matter and something the manager and board of management have tried to resolve over a period and on which my office has made many representations. The mood of the board of management and parents is not complimentary of the Department. The visit by the inspector in recent weeks was not of benefit in terms of the request lodged with the Department.

  I will outline the case briefly. The school has recently reached an enrolment of 82 pupils. It is a small, overcrowded, three teacher school. The general view of the board of management and myself is that it merits a fourth teacher. The division of classes between the three rooms leaves little room for movement. Computers and tele[374] visions compete for space and, in the interests of hygiene, safety and ventilation, an enlarged area is urgently needed in the school.

  I will give a breakdown of what these people must endure. There are 31 pupils in the senior room and they have an area of 420 sq. ft. Taking into account the teacher's table and the presses, computer, television trolley and so on, they are left with 355 sq. ft. for 31 pupils plus a teacher. That is surely not acceptable in these times. The middle room has 29 pupils and they also have a space of 355 sq. ft. when the area for the teacher's table and other equipment is discounted. The main infant room, which has 22 pupils, is 400 sq. ft. when the furniture is taken into consideration.

  This is unacceptable and the school would clearly benefit from a fourth teacher. It is entitled to one in September 2002, but it clearly needs one now. It would allow the bulging classrooms to be fit into four divisions. The board of management, the principal and the teachers have come forward with a proposal. They have said the 14 junior infants and eight senior infants would make one group of 22. First and second class would have 19 pupils; third and fourth class would also have 19 pupils and the last group would also have 22 pupils. It would be impossible to deal with this situation without a fourth teacher. There is a case for a fourth teacher and that teacher should be put in place now.

  The school itself had an increase in pupil numbers of 19% from outside the parish this year. It is a growing area and it now expects to enrol 48 local children in the next four years. The school has done its homework and has an excellent case. The inspector called recently and spoke about two prefabs and classroom and a principal's office sometime in the future. That is of no value and is unacceptable. I wish to make a strong case for this school tonight. I intend to pursue the matter if there is not an adequate response. The matter will remain on the agenda because I have a mandate from the parents and board of management and I will raise this at every opportunity.

  The Minister needs to make his officials aware of the situation in the school. The current overcrowded condition would clearly break fire and other regulations. It is not acceptable. I trust there will be some response from the Department. I will not be satisfied if the matter is put on the long finger until 2002 or with being told that there is a large burden on the Department. The simple fact is that Fuerty national school has children in overcrowded conditions where they cannot be taught properly. On their behalf I demand proper treatment and facilities.

  Dr. Moffatt: I thank Senator Finneran for raising this matter. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, regrets that he cannot be here.

  I am glad the Senator has given me the opportunity of outlining to the House the Department of Education and Science's current position regarding the provision of improved accommo[375] dation and the appointment of an extra teacher at Fuerty national school. The school's present facilities consist of three permanent classrooms in the main school building and a converted cloakroom houses the remedial and resource teachers.

  I am pleased to inform the House that over the past two years the Department approved grant aid for capital works to the school which included a new roof and the replacement of windows, doors and boiler. The Department of Education and Science has received an application for grant aid towards the cost of upgrading the school.

  The Senator will appreciate that there has been a massive and unprecedented increase in the funds allocated by this Government to the schools building programme at all levels. There are currently more than 850 major school building projects at various stages of planning. Decisions relating to the rate of progress to construction of these projects, including Fuerty national school, will be taken in the light of the allocations to be made for school buildings purposes in the forthcoming Estimates.

  In regard to the appointment of an extra teacher, the staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule and is finalised for a particular year following discussions with the education partners.

  The enrolment of the school on 30 September 2000 was 68 pupils which warrants a staffing for the 2001-02 school year of a principal and two mainstream class teachers. The only criterion by which a school may possibly gain an additional teacher post, apart from numbers as determined by reference to the enrolment on 30 September for the previous year, is developing school status.

  The developing school criteria for the 2001-02 school year is outlined in circular letter 12/2001, a copy of which the board of management of the school has received. To satisfy the criteria as outlined in the circular letter, the enrolment of Fuerty national school on 30 September 2001 would need to have increased by at least 25 pupils over the number enrolled on 30 September 2000. Accordingly the school would require an enrolment of at least 93 pupils on 30 September 2001.

  As the enrolment on 30 September 2001 according to data received from the board was only 82 pupils, an additional mainstream class teacher cannot be sanctioned for the 2001-02 school year. In addition the school has the services of a learning support teacher. If the enrolment of 82 pupils on 30 September 2001 is valid, the board of management on the basis of the existing staffing schedule would be entitled to appoint an additional mainstream class teacher from the 1 September 2002.

  The Department of Education and Science has requested an inspector to visit the school and to examine the overall situation regarding the enrolment of pupils, including the transfer of pupils [376] from other schools. The Department will be in contact with the board of management when the report is received.

  I have taken on board the Senator's request to have progress made on this matter.