Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Seán Crowe has given a qualified welcome to the announcement by Minister Ruairí Quinn of 275 major school projects to be completed over the next five years.
Deputy Crowe said: “In Sinn Féin’s pre-budget submission we put forward proposals for a comprehensive school capital build programme that if implemented, would provide a much needed boost to our education system and the hard pressed construction industry. Our fully costed plans included, over a three year period, the building of an additional 100 schools at a cost of €300 million and the refurbishment of 75 more at a cost of €50 million.
“Today’s announcement by Minister Quinn that 106 new schools at primary level and 43 at second level are to be built over the next five years, along with 114 large-scale extensions goes some way to addressing the projected rise in school enrolment numbers. The capital expenditure to be made on primary and post primary schools is also a vindication of Sinn Féin’s pre-budget proposals and therefore welcome.
“I am particularly concerned however, that as recently as recently December 2011, Minister Quinn stated that €2 billion was to be spent on refurbishing and building new schools to supposedly meet a projected increase in enrolment numbers of 80,000 new pupils. Today’s announcement, less than four months later has seen it reduced to €1.5 billion to meet an estimated increase of 70,000 in the number of new pupils starting school.
“When challenged on the Morning Ireland programme on RTÉ radio to explain why the government’s own estimates have been revised significantly downwards, the answers given by Minister Quinn were, to say the least, vague and unconvincing. What has changed in four months? It is a case of the minister getting his sums wrong or have an estimated 10,000 pupils been lost on the way to RTE?
“At the same time that the government is announcing the building and upgrade of schools it has postponed the summer work’s programme which is essential in ensuring the upkeep of existing schools. This short-sighted policy decision will result in schools becoming increasingly run down as a result of poor maintenance and will end up costing schools and Irish taxpayers more in the long run.
“The government has also introduced cuts in school staffing schedules that will increase pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) without considering how this will affect classroom sizes. This is reflected in confusion surrounding changes to the PTR of DEIS schools that the Minister claimed were increasing from 15:1 – 18:1 only for the Department's own website to publish a 20:1 figure.
“It is important that priority is given to schools that are currently struggling to cope with a rising pupil intake and demographic changes that have resulted in increasing numbers of families having to cope with rising levels of poverty that have been precipitated by the economic downturn.
“We need to have in place modern, high quality accommodation for pupils as this can make a significant difference when teaching in the classroom.
“The new school builds will likely provide a much needed and welcome boost to the construction industry with an estimated 15,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs expected to be created over the period of the programme.”