No room for 42 pupils as offer of extra classrooms rejected
MORE than 40 pupils are still without a second-level place after hopes of a breakthrough in a school accommodation crisis were dashed yesterday.
The biggest school in the country rejected an offer by Education Minster Mary Coughlan of extra classrooms, which would allow more pupils to be enrolled this year.
The additional accommodation for Gorey Community School was intended as an interim response, pending the building of another school in the town to cater for the fast-growing population in the north Wexford area.
But it became clear yesterday that the unanimous decision of the school's board of management was fuelled by concerns that the long-promised new school would not materialise in 2012.
Parents were left reeling after the decision by the board, which has left 42 children leaving primary school this summer with nowhere to go in September.
Parents say they understand the school's concerns, but remain hugely frustrated that they have no idea where to send their children.
Edel Finan, chair of the Ballygarrett Education Action Group, which is campaigning for places for children in Gorey, said while "disappointed in the decision of the board of management, in all fairness they did highlight the issue to the Department of Education last year". She said people were concerned that the proposed new school could face further delays. "I don't think the school trusts the department."
Department of Education officials are seeking to resolve the problem. Any decision by the school to lift the enrolment cap -- the limit is 270 per year -- would have to be accompanied by firm guarantees that the 2012 deadline for another school was set in stone.
Gorey Community School is already the biggest school in the country with 1,600 pupils and it put a cap on admissions on health and safety grounds.
It was formed through a merger of the Loreto Convent, the CBS and Gorey Vocational School and accepts children from 17 primary schools in Wexford.
Massive development in the north Wexford area in the past decade was not matched by the provision of adequate second-level places, putting enormous pressure on the only school in the town.
Some of the 42 affected children are in the catchment area for Kilmuckridge Community School and some could be accommodated some distance away in Arklow, but 29 are relying on Gorey Community School. Local people are angry that the problem over lack of places has been evident for many years and the Government did not act sooner.
The promised new school is one of eight to be built under the public private partnership scheme and there is concern that a problem with any of the other schools in that bundle could further delay the Gorey plans.
The minister's offer of a grant for new classrooms for the school was made last year and officials from her department were in touch with the school.
There was no official comment yesterday from the board of management, which is chaired by Sr Kathleen McLennan of the Loreto order.
One board member, Fine Gael councillor Colin Webb, said they had received no official correspondence from the minister or her department about any offer. He said the only decision they made was not to lift the cap on admissions this year because the enrolment issue was on the agenda.
He said the school's admission policy, which put a cap on enrolments, put the best interests of its pupils at its heart.
Mr Webb said the minister and her predecessor were aware of the problem in Gorey for the past number of years and the Government "didn't bother doing anything about it".
Local Fianna Fail TD John Browne said it was amazing that the three Fine Gael councillors on the board of management had not supported providing extra accommodation this year.