Minister must meet with more than ETB re second level crisis

I am calling on the Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, to meet with a local 2nd level campaign group before making decisions regarding the need for extensions and or new build second level schools in Newbridge and South Kildare.

This week, on my behalf, Senator Catherine Noone asked the Minister for Education and skills for an update with regard to the Dept’s Review of Post-Primary Places required from 2017.  I am greatly concerned by the Minister’s answer that decisions around extensions vs new schools have already been made in anticipation of the outcome of that review.

The Minister stated in her answer to Senator Noone that she would be announcing details of the new post-primary schools to be provided nationwide arising from this exercise “very shortly” . She further adds that arrangements would also be made to provide additional post-primary accommodation to existing schools where the demographic demand warranted it. I am concerned about a policy of extension over new build.

A policy of extension over new build fails to take into account, as well as the very important demographic pressure in South Kildare for much more second level places, the importance of choice when educating our children.  We have more than enough demand across Newbridge , Kildare and their hinterlands to justify the building of a new second level school. Feedback from parents of other second level schools in the area,  to the South Kildare Educate Together (SKET) 2nd level campaign has been hugely positive because parents realise a new school would lessen the pressure on places across all other schools especially those most in demand, as well as providing much needed ASD units.

The chronic shortage of secondary school places for children in Newbridge and its surrounding areas in Kildare is increasingly becoming a cause of major concern for parents and teachers alike.  My  own research highlighted by the SKET campaign has revealed a serious shortage of approximately 140 secondary school places in the Newbridge locality alone next year . I believes that the issue is only going to get worse.

Local analysis is backed up by The Central Statistics Office with figures projecting the number of primary school-aged children is set to increase by up to 100,000 by 2021. These figures further highlight greater growth will be experienced by the mid-east area of Ireland, while Dublin and many other urban areas will slow down.   In fact Kildare will be one of the few population growth areas for Ireland over the next six years.

These figures are backed up by Kildare County Council who are in the middle of preparing their Local Economic and Community Plan 2016-2022. In their baseline report, they stated that the Kildare population has not yet peaked, further evidence that there will be medium to long term pressure on school places in the County.  Plans for 500 new places in St. Conleth’s Community College and an extension for the Patrician Boys School in Newbridge is not sufficient to cater for demand or choice.

As a board member of the Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Boards ( former VEC) I am delighted that the Minister and her Department have consulted with the ETB around potential and necessary extensions. However , as a public representative and parent,  I believe it is absolutely crucial that the Minister meets with other education stakeholders and representatives before serious decisions that will impact on the quality and choice of our children’s education are taken.