Educate Together calls for Fine Gael to make concrete commitments to introduce key reforms in the way that new schools are provided if they form part of the next government.
Speaking at a meeting in Dublin 15, Paul Rowe, CEO stated:
“Educate Together is an educational charity, a patron and representative of the 41 Educate Together schools across the country. As an educational body it has no party political allegiance and has supporters from all shades of political opinion. At this meeting, I am speaking on behalf of the future of the education system and for the rights of parents for a proper choice of schools and for the rights of their children to be educated to the highest possible standards in high-quality facilites.
Educate Together is especially supporting the rights of all families to equality, respect and excellence in the schools that are available to them in their localities and that this means their right to choose an Educate Together school if this is their wish.
In the run up to the 2007 election, we are drawing all voters attention to the urgent necessity for reform of the new schools process.
The new schools process is deeply flawed, has become unworkable and is the root cause of successive school place crises in areas of expanding population through the country. This has the bitter experience of parents in Dubin 15 where schools have had to be started in local community centres, bussed to different locations ouside the area and where there is still a chronic failure of the State to plan appropriately for emerging demand.
Whilst this problem affects all school patrons, over the past seven years, Educate Together has become one of the main providers of new schools in areas of population growth in Ireland. We have been at the blunt end of this problem and have very relevant experience.
The statistics are stark. Of the 23 schools Educate Together has opened since 2000, only one is housed in a permanent building. Yet 80% of these schools have been opened in areas in which the need for a new school has been known since the very moment the ink was dry on the planning application for housing estates. As a patron of these new schools, Educate Together, in common with all other patrons, has not received any funding to enable it to supply the many facetted professional services that these new schools require in the early years of their operations.
As a result, despite the fact that there is demand for new Educate Together schools in up to 50 areas of the country, the organisation will not be able to meet these demands if the current system continues.
I would like to draw your attention to the real importance of this issue. In a recent Department of Education and Science review of school facilities in North Dublin, East Meath and South Louth, the need for no less than 37 new primary schools was identified. How are these schools to be provided? How many school place crises are simply waiting down the tracks for us in the next 10 years?
In our opinion, it is not enough for politicians to make general comments about this issue. It is true that this issue is based on a past century in which our population was in decline and in which religious bodies were able to take the lead in providing educational infrastructure. We are in a new century in which our children are demanding a proper State response and best in class social and economic infrastructure. We are demanding that the long-standing and chronic under-investment in primary education be reversed and immediate and appropriate steps are taken to ensure that schools will be available on time wherever the need for them is established.
In particular, we are asking all voters to seek concrete commitments from candidates and especially those who have aspirations to form the next government. We are asking for commitments that the following reforms become a core part of their programme in government.
Firstly, that the Dept. of Education & Science takes full responsibility for the provision of
new educational facilities.
Secondly, that the Dept. of Education & Science will acquire sites and school buildings as
soon as the need for a school is identified, in order to provide a purpose built
school building from the day of opening.
Thirdly, that Service level agreements need to be entered into with Patron Bodies, in order
to ensure timely efficient delivery of quality educational facilities into the future.