THE Government will have to build even more new secondary schools than previously thought because of the boom in pupil numbers.
It will put a further strain on state finances but the upside is that it will provide a boost for the construction industry.
As well as building costs, the extra second-level schools -- secondary, community and vocational schools -- will also need at least 1,000 teachers.
Instead of the 13 new schools announced in January, up to 20 will be needed over the next seven years as pupil enrolments are expected to soar by at least 24,000, from 312,000 to over 336,000, the Irish Independent has learned.
Each of the new schools will cater for about 1,000 pupils, while some existing schools will also need extensions to cope with the growing numbers.
The sudden, upward revision of the figure comes as a result of more accurate population information being available to the Department of Education.
It now knows not only how many students will enrol at second level, but also where exactly they are likely to be living.
For the first time, the department has been able to use data based on the payment of child benefit to map where children are living, and in what numbers.
The data does not allow for the identification of children or families, but it does provide invaluable information for planning purposes.
The areas earmarked for the 13 new schools already announced are Gorey, Co Wexford; Doughiska and Claregalway, Co Galway; Kingscourt, Co Cavan; Ashbourne and Navan, Co Meath; Lucan/Clonburris, Mulhuddart and Blanchardstown, Co Dublin; Drogheda, Co Louth; Maynooth and Naas, Co Kildare; north Co Dublin/south Co Louth region.
As well as its direct building programme, the Government is also increasingly using public-private partnerships to develop new schools, allowing it to spread the cost over 25 years.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said yesterday he would be briefing the Government on the requirements for an expanded school building programme.
As well as the growing demand at secondary level, the department also has to cater for an additional 60,000 primary pupils by 2017.