Government to give 'careful consideration' to new school
Education Minister says he has a duty of care to bring back the valid concerns of local people about second level education needs
The Minister for Education and Skills has confirmed to this newspaper that careful consideration will be given by the Government to the need for the provision of another secondary school in north Wexford.
Visiting the county on Thursday, Minister Joe McHugh met with the principals from a large number of north Wexford primary schools at a closed meeting in Riverchapel.
Following that meeting this newspaper asked the minister if he felt the concerns of the schools and of the parents in their call for a new school to be built are justified.
He said there are serious concerns over the issue and he also said that the worry of parents of children from third class onwards in primary schools throughout the north of the county, with regard to second level places, is understandable.
'I'm a big believer in schools finding solutions and there is a great relationship between the primary schools and the two secondary schools here.' he said.
He commented that Creagh College is not yet at capacity but agreed there is an evolving demographic change in north Wexford and the numbers requiring places going forward will increase.
'The teachers I met this morning do have concerns over the short to medium term as to 'will there be capacity' from third class on,' he said.
'The Department keeps a close eye on changing demographics,' he added.
'We keep it under constant review and where there is a demand for extra places we obviously have options around increasing capacity at existing schools but I know that is a difficulty for Gorey Community School but we will keep it under review.'
Minister McHugh then said part of that review will be to look at future planning and he said he will 'reflect back' the concerns expressed to him in Wexford to department officials.
'I had quite a number of concerns raised with me today from the primary school principals and I'll me making reflections on that after my visit here to Gorey,' he said.
When asked what time-frame would be involved with regard to having a serious look at developing a proposal for a new school the minister said: 'If you look at where we are at now the capacity can be met; this [Creagh College] is a thousand pupil school and as far as the figures we've got for September coming Gorey can meet its capacity but obviously if there is going to be more planning permissions there's going to be an increase in the population [and] we have to look at all the figures for the schools to see what capacity [there is].'
The minister agreed that there could be serious issues going forward.
'There will be a bubble and the question will be what do we do before the bubble arises,' he said.
When asked what the threshold figure is for pupil population before a need for a secondary school is acknowledged Minister McHugh said: 'That's a detail that officials look at. They look at population growth, they work very closely with the Department of Housing so obviously Wexford County Council will play a pivotal role as well because they will know how many planning permissions have been granted and how many more new estates are going to come into this area.'
The minister said it's also a question of choice among the existing schools especially with regard to whether or not they are willing to increase capacity.
'That's a question they need to answer themselves,' he said.
'As of now they can meet the capacity but from listening to the concerns today and from listening to my colleague Michael D'Arcy over the last few months there is a serious question mark around a very increased population [here],' he added.
He said the visit was beneficial because it gave him a 'feel for the area' and he acknowledged the number of pupils attending Gorey Community School was very high.
'I am conscious of that and I will be using my influence to ensure that I bring back the message and let the officials know that there is a real and tangible feeling here that people aren't just concerned about the present they are thinking about three, four or five years down the line,' he said.
When asked directly if he felt there is a valid argument for a new secondary school in north Wexford he replied: 'Well, there are a number of issues in education every year and when you meet principals there are about 50 to 60 different issues that they could raise with you but there was only one issue raised with me here and it crystallised itself as concern around future projected growth and I have a duty of care to bring that back to the officials.'