Educate Together today welcomes the Government’s ‘Capital Plan’ announcement of funding for projects in the area of education. The commitment of €3.8 billion in spending for primary, secondary and third level education facilities is much needed and long overdue.
Crucial to this is the Government's ‘key objective’ commitment to providing 19,000 new primary school places by 2018. Commenting on this, Luke O’ Shaughnessy, spokesperson for Educate Together, stated:
“To ensure that 19,000 young children don’t have to rely on a monopoly of religious-run schools free to discriminate against them at the front gates, then the establishment of new Educate Together school places must be a priority.”
300 Educate Together national schools are now needed to provide all families in Ireland with school choice. This modest number would make up just 10% of the primary education system. This capital building programme is an opportunity for the Government to accelerate the provision of equality-based primary school places nationwide. This would address the ever-increasing demand for Educate Together primary school places and bring the Irish education system more into line with that of a modern democratic State.
The Government's commitment to providing 43,000 new secondary school places by 2022 is also encouraging. There are huge levels of demand for our pioneering model of second-level education. Four second-level schools have opened since 2014, with four more to open next September. A second-level campaign group in Kildare South, as one example, currently has over 1,300 signups and rising. In meeting this fast growing demand from parents all over Ireland, the Government now has an opportunity to transform the second-level education landscape in Ireland.
What of those forgotten by the Government?
Educate Together notes also that the particular areas earmarked for capital investment will be named in a number of weeks. But what of the families in towns and cities who were already told by the Government that new schools would be established for their children?
In 19 distinct areas, families are still waiting for the Educate Together national schools they were promised by the Irish Government under the divestment programme three years ago. One of the key obstacles to progress in this area is Government determination that this should be a 'no cost' programme. This is unrealistic. Funding needs to be allocated to progress divestment these 19 areas, and the capital building programme represents an opportunity to do just that.
Eliminating the use of prefabs?
The Government’s pledge to ‘greatly reduce’ the use of prefabs is also welcome. Spokesperson Luke O’Shaughnessy again:
“As the lead provider of new schools in Ireland, it must be said that too many Educate Together primary schools have opened in, and in many cases have languished in, unsuitable prefab accommodation. In 2015, school buildings should be fit-for-purpose and appropriate for young children beginning their school lives. Our hope is that the capital building programme can eliminate the need for prefab accommodation.”
Educate Together is calling on the Government to seize this opportunity and work with us to provide a national network of equality-based schools in line with what the people of Ireland want for their children.