Education | To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which adequate provision is being made to facilitate additional accommodation requirements in all primary and second-level schools throughout the country
To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which adequate provision is being made to facilitate additional accommodation requirements in all primary and second-level schools throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
As the Deputy may be aware, for school planning purposes, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and utilises a Geographical Information System and statistical modelling to anticipate school place demand. Information from a range of sources, including Child Benefit data, school enrolment data and information on residential development activity is used for this purpose. Additionally, Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets inform my Department’s projections of school place requirements.
Having considered the projected requirements, my Department then makes an assessment of the existing school accommodation capacity within that particular area and its ability to meet any increased demand. A national inventory of school capacity, which utilises information from schools’ annual returns, is maintained by my Department and is supplemented by data on enrolment trends at individual schools as well as other indicators of potential capacity. My Department’s GIS is a critical tool in assessing such data in support of strategic planning for school accommodation needs. The GIS facilitates the geo-spatial analysis of capacity relative to school place demand and the customised reporting of data at local, regional and national levels.
As the Deputy may be aware, at primary level national enrolments peaked in 2018 and are projected to decline by over 120,000 by 2033, as outlined in my Department’s statistical report of November 2021: “Projections of full-time enrolment Primary and Second Level 2021-2040”. In that same report it can be seen that post primary enrolments are forecast to peak in 2024 and then decline thereafter to 2039, by circa 90,000 places. Although these projections do not account for arriving Ukrainian students, it is clear that at a national level there will be increasing levels of capacity within our existing schools infrastructure. While local and regional variations will, of course, be relevant, the use of such capacity – to meet the needs of Ukrainian children in the first instance – will be an important element in my Department’s strategic planning for capital investment in our schools. In this regard, a capacity survey at post-primary level has indicated available capacity of the order of 18,000 to 20,000 school places. There is also very good capacity at primary level given the downward trend in demographics and this will be analysed at an individual school and town/area level when a capacity survey of special schools and primary schools is undertaken at end May/early June 2022.
Where the geo-spatial assessment of demand and capacity in an area indicates that additional provision is required my Department considers the options of extending the capacity of a school or schools, or of providing a new school or schools. The timing and duration of the accommodation need is also considered in determining the optimum accommodation solution – for example a short-term accommodation requirement does not require a long-term accommodation solution.
Separately, where a school considers that it has a requirement for additional mainstream or special education needs accommodation it is open to the school authority to apply under my Department’s Additional School Accommodation (ASA) scheme. The assessment of such applications is also informed by a geo-spatial analysis of demand and capacity in the relevant area, and a consideration of the timing and duration of the need. The level of capacity in an individual school or in neighbouring schools is relevant when decisions on enrolment are being made. It is important that capacity across a town or area is fully utilised before additional accommodation is approved.
My Department continues to work to advance school building projects to ensure sufficient places for both mainstream provision and for pupils with special education requirements both for the coming academic year and into the future. My Department has a large pipeline of projects for delivery under the school building programme to cater for current and future educational demands. The pipeline of projects is kept under continual review to ensure alignment with Project Ireland 2040 objectives. Good progress continues to be made with the rollout of projects, and the current status of projects being delivered is listed in tabular format, on a county by county basis, on the Department’s website at www.gov.ie and updated on a monthly basis to reflect their progress through the various stages of capital appraisal, site acquisition, design, tender and construction.
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