Monday 22 July 2019

North Wexford in urgent need of additional secondary school

Parents start a petition to highlight the need for new secondary school to address the difficulties students have securing a place

The large attendance at the public meeting in the Tara Vie Hotel in Courtown
The large attendance at the public meeting in the Tara Vie Hotel in Courtown

Sara Gahan

There will not be enough secondary school places for children in north Wexford when the current third class pupils finish primary school.

The stark reality of the lack of school places in the district was laid bare at a public meeting highlighting the need for an additional secondary school in the area.

The meeting was chaired by Elaine Clarke, a concerned mother from Riverchapel, who has also set up an online petition to secure a secondary school in Riverchapel to address the difficulties parents have in securing a place for their child in Gorey schools. The petition, which has over 1,000 signatures already, will be sent to the Department of Education once complete.

Those attending the meeting heard that there will be just about enough secondary school places for current fourth, fifth and sixth class pupils, but Elaine said that only remained the case if no new families moved into the north Wexford area over the coming three years. Gorey Community School has reached its capacity, while Creagh College can only accommodate another 200 students for the coming three years - but that still does not guarantee a place for everyone who applies.

According to Census 2016, Riverchapel, combined with Ardamine and Courtown, has a population of over 6,000. Elaine, along with many others at the meeting, said they will fight for a new school as they feel Riverchapel is not a village anymore, but an urban district that could provide a second level education to the catchment areas, while also taking off pressure from Gorey Community School and Creagh College.

Elaine said the population of Riverchapel is the same as Gorey's population 20 years ago. At that time Gorey already had a secondary school - Gorey Community School - and another one, Creagh College, in the pipeline.

'Parents should not have to sit and wonder for a year if their child will secure a place in school,' said Elaine. 'The Department of Education should have got the ball rolling on this a few years ago.'

She added that it will take at least three years before a school is built, and by that time it will be too late as schools in Gorey are already facing huge demand for places.

It was reported in last week's Gorey Guardian that principal Paul Glynn from Creagh College and Michael Finn from Gorey Community School fear that a shortage of secondary school places is looming again, stating how important it is to flag this with the Department of Education sooner rather than later.

Local authority representatives Cllr Malcolm Byrne, Cllr Robbie Ireton, Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and Cllr Joe Sullivan, along with Minister Michael D'Arcy addressed the meeting too, stating that the shortage of school places in Gorey has been coming down the line for some time.

Minister D'Arcy said according to calculations school places should be fine for a few years, but that doesn't mean nothing should be done in the meantime.

'The Minister for Education will come to Wexford in the next couple of weeks and we will be highlighting the issue with him,' said Minister D'Arcy.

Cllr Byrne said he chaired the campaign that led to the creation of a new school at Creagh College and the pressure they needed to maintain on the Department of Education at the time.

'We have been pointing out that the schools problem in the Gorey area has been coming down the line for a number of years and we had warned the Government,' added Cllr Byrne.

Cllr Ireton said he had been pushing for a school in Riverchapel for quite some time.

'Bunclody does not have the population we have and they have a school, Kilmuckridge does not have the population either and they have a school,' said Cllr Ireton. 'The Department of Education state North Wexford does not need one until 2022, but that is just ridiculous.'

Cllr Ireton said that no child should have to go through a lottery system for a school place. He added that they are now looking at building an additional school in Clonattin or Riverchapel, but he strongly believes it should be in Riverchapel.

Cllr Ó Súilleabháin, who sits on the board of Creagh College and Colaiste An Átha, outlined the process needed to apply to build a new secondary school and said that with 4,500 children currently enrolled in primary schools in the Gorey district and Gorey's two post-primary schools near and above capacity there will be a need for a third school as soon as possible.

'We need a mixture of political pressure as well as parent power when Minister for Education Joe McHugh visits Gorey later this month,' said Cllr Ó Súilleabháin.

'Its simply unacceptable that a child's local education in a modern republic should have to be dependent on a lottery and shows time and time again a lack of forward planning by the government.'

He added that with 'two post-primary schools there is huge congestion in the town already at peak times'.

'The extra 200 spaces in Creagh won't meet the demand that is looming,' added Elaine. 'Once the housing developments that are in the pipeline for Gorey are constructed that will be added pressure.'

She said Riverchapel is a town in itself and made reference to its growing population and infrastructure.

'I have been living in Riverchapel for 17 years and it has not stopped growing in that time, nor is there any sign of it stopping,' said Elaine.

Siting a new school in Riverchapel would also help relieve congestion in Gorey town.

'Kids are leaving Riverchapel at 7.45 a.m. and still arrive late to school,' said Elaine.

Going forward, Elaine has set up a working group who have created an online petition campaigning for a new school and who will hopefully meet the Minister for Education Joe McHugh in a few weeks to discuss the situation. She said if Minister McHugh doesn't meet them, they will put together a summary report to post to the Department along with the petition.

Gorey Guardian