Oral Questions – Education – Holywell Educate Together Pre-School

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8. Deputy Clare Daly     asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is aware of the integrated preschool unit at a school (details supplied); his plans to ensure its survival at that location and to expand services of this nature further to more communities. [10709/16]

Deputy Richard Bruton:     On the specific preschool referred to by the Deputy, I understand the community facilities provided on the site in question initially provided accommodation for a preschool but that, following its closure, a new preschool has been opened in two classrooms in the school. It should be noted that under Circular 16/05, issued in 2005 on the use of school premises during the school day for purposes other than regular school business, the prior approval of the Minister should have been sought in order that the overall needs of the school could be accommodated. Proposals to the Minister to allow use of accommodation during the school day have been facilitated in the past, provided a school’s current and future accommodation needs are not compromised and the consent of the patron has been received. In the case of Holywell national school, future accommodation needs for the primary school intake will take precedence over the needs of the preschool. A proposal from the school concerned will be considered in that regard.

In facilitating the establishment of preschools in schools, or co-located with schools, my Department looks favourably on the establishment of preschool facilities on school sites. However, there are a number of complex issues that need to be considered in such arrangements. These issues, including property, governance, insurance and liability, are being considered as part of a review within my Department of the requirements to be established in the use of school premises for preschool services and the preparation of guidelines on same. My Department is seeking legal advice on certain aspects and, when this advice is received, it will be considered by officials in my Department with a view to putting arrangements in place to facilitate this matter.

Data held by Pobal which administers the ECCE scheme on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs indicate that in the region of 369 preschools funded under the scheme are co-located with schools.

Deputy Clare Daly:     The specific building and preschool are linked with Holywell Educate Together national school. It was originally opened by the Fingal County Childcare Committee using under-utilised and non-used classrooms in a growing school. The facility now provides two sessions of ECCE morning and afternoon classes in the school. It is a preschool that is fully integrated with the existing school in a school which has a 68% non-Irish population, making it the 14th most diverse school in the country, although it does not have DEIS status. As far as I am concerned, this preschool is a model. It is taking in children and providing accessible child care, preschool hours, a wraparound service and after-school facilities at affordable prices for parents in the area. It employs seven local people and because it has had the premises and not had to rent rooms, in the oast year alone it has generated €25,000 which has been put back into in the school which is in a deprived area. It is a role model, but its future is in jeopardy because, as the Minister said, by 2018 the full complement of classrooms will have been filled. It is, therefore, looking for the Minister’s assistance. His predecessor visited it. Will the Minister go out and look at this case and how the model can be rolled out to other schools?

Deputy Richard Bruton:     I am very sympathetic to the Deputy’s point and believe the Department recognises the value of integrating the service. From a narrow point of view, the Department is committed to having a 24-classroom school to provide the education service which is its responsibility. I believe the difficulty was that no formal request had been made by the school before it opened. Nonetheless, I am certainly very sympathetic to the case the Deputy is making. Obviously, the Department has to seek legal advice and look at some of the other issues involved. I hope a solution can be found, but I do not have enough details at my disposal to say how a resolution can be put together.

Deputy Clare Daly:     I hope it can. The young preschool children have been fully integrated into school life at an early age and special needs problems are identified early. The preschool follows the same teaching methods engaged in the primary school and has been brilliant in terms of the children’s development, not least in terms of the financial benefits to the school in an area where it would be hard to fundraise through voluntary contributions or in other ways. The preschool understands the need for the main school to grow and take up the spaces. The land is available for the provision of two extra classrooms which the preschool believes would cost no more than €160,000 and allow the preschool to accommodate the numbers it is taking in. Because it is run on a non-profit basis, it is employing people with local skills and providing local parents with sustainable employment. It is a win-win. I like the Minister’s soundings and hope they are genuine. While I do not mean that in a bad way, I hope we can engage and take this forward. I know that the former Minister, former Deputy James Reilly, had engagements in this regard, as had the former Minister, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan

Deputy Richard Bruton:     Clearly, I would like to be able to resolve the issue but, equally, I understand my Department has a statutory obligation to provide school places, not preschool places. Given its budget which I know is highly limited – we read in the newspapers about how limited it is – the Department has to concentrate on its statutory responsibility. There are constraints on a Department in providing facilities for something that essentially is outside its area of responsibility. The Deputy makes a persuasive case, but I cannot make commitments. I will have to explore what can be done.

The Minister’s written response to this question is below:

Uimhir:8
Ceist Pharlaiminte

Chun an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíoctha
To the Minister for Education and Science

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he is aware of the integrated preschool unit at a school (details supplied); his plans to ensure its survival at that location and to expand services of this nature further to more
communities..
– Clare Daly.

Holywell Educate Together National School

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 19th May, 2016.
Reference Number: 10709/16
Freagra

Minister Richard Bruton

In relation to the specific preschool unit referred to by the Deputy, I understand that the community facilities provided on the site in question initially provided accommodation for a pre-school but that following its closure, a new pre-school has been opened in two classrooms in the school itself. It should be noted that under Circular 16/05 issued to primary schools in 2005, the use of school premises during the school day, for purposes other than regular school business, the prior approval of the Minister should have been sought so that the overall needs of the school can be accommodated into the future.

Proposals to the Minister to allow use of accommodation during the school day have been facilitated in the past, provided that the school’s current and future accommodation needs are not compromised and the consent of the patron has been received. In the case of Holywell N.S., future accommodation needs for the primary school intake will take precedence over the needs of the
pre-school. A proposal from the school concerned will be considered in that regard.

In facilitating the establishment of pre-schools in schools or co-located with schools, my Department looks favourably on the establishment of pre-school facilities on school sites. However, there are a number of complex issues that need to be considered in respect of such arrangements. These issues, including property, governance, insurance and liability, are being considered as part of a review within my Department of the requirements to be established around the use of school premises/property for pre-school services and the preparation of guidelines in relation to same.

My Department is seeking legal advice in relation to certain aspects and when this advice is received, it will be considered by officials in my Department with a view to putting arrangements in place to facilitate this matter.

Data held by Pobal, who administer the ECCE scheme on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs indicates that in the region of 369 pre-schools are being funded by that scheme who are co-located with schools. In addition my Department funds 40 Early Start centres (pre-school classes) that are embedded in DEIS schools.