Funding needed for Holy Family School Cootehill expansion – Senator Reilly
Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly this morning questioned the Minister for Education and Skills on the funding criteria for the building of new schools, particularly the policy of focusing on demographic growth in the allocation of funding. Raising the issue once again of the Holy Family School, Cootehill and the need for funding to be allocated she questioned what exceptions can be made to this criteria and under what circumstances.
Speaking in the Seanad she said:
“After 15 years, numerous Education ministers and countless false starts, the Holy Family School in Cootehill is still in limbo with respect to funding for the provision of new school accommodation.
“Unfortunately, since I came into this house and this issue was raised with me, we are getting the same reply and there seems to be no commitment to have financial provision made for this project.
“The stock answer from the Department is that priority is afforded to where ‘population growth has been identified’ and that there is a ‘demographic challenge facing the education system’.
“As you are aware Minister, the Holy Family School in Cootehill caters for pupils with severe and profound learning disabilities, moderate and multiple learning disabilities and for pupils with autism.
“Reports forecast that this September the student population is set to increase from 143 to over 155 for the first time ever. If you look at the growth in school figures over the last number of years, the figure keeps rising and in terms of the new school and planning the school has had to change the goalposts repeatedly to cater for the demand for places they experience every year.
“I want to ask the Minister what needs to happen so that the project can progress to the funding stages? What is your definition of demographic need or population growth?
“Parents don’t have the luxury of being able to pick and choose where to send their children. The catchment area for this school is beyond a parish or town or even one single county. It serves a number of counties and parents have to send their children here to receive the high standards of education the teachers and staff there provide.
“This is a particular demographic with a real and pressing need. The growth in demand for places every year is real. You need to consider the need for wheelchairs for example and other specialised equipment that are in use in this school. The current space is being used to maximum capacity and it is unfair for the children to have to be taught in that environment. Again the teachers, staff and parents are doing their best but Minister it is now time for the Department to step up.
“No more excuses, no more dragging heels. This project needs to be prioritised for funding as a matter of urgency.”