THE status of the building project at Ballinspittle National School was raised in the Upper House by Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard.
The school has seen significant development, as has the village of Ballinspittle over recent years, he said. The school was also put on the six-year capital building programme in November 2015, which was a very positive step.
In the original proposal, it was supposed to go to construction in 2017, he said. ‘We want to see this school progressing and we need the project to go to construction in 2017. For the 2017 commitment to be met, it must go through detailed design, planning and tendering this year,’ he pointed out.
‘Time is ticking and the need for the school is very important. The site is available. There are at least three-and-a-half acres around the school. Numbers have increased. By 2018, 230 pupils will be going to this school. There are two autism spectrum disorder/ASD classrooms that are a very important part of the school and its ethos.’
A total of 19 children need sensory space, sensory time and sensory breaks, which are very important, he said. The only way they can get them is to get them in the hallway, which is not appropriate. It is a big issue for the community, the principal and the parents of children in the school.
Replying on behalf of the Minister for Education, Minister of State Catherine Byrne said the Department is aware of the specific accommodation needs of the school, and in that regard, the building project for Ballinspittle is included in the Department’s six-year construction programme. ‘In the context of progressing this project, the Department is undertaking an analysis of the school’s architectural plans in advance of a technical site visit,’ she said. ‘The Department will also be contacting the school shortly with a view to scheduling a date for the technical site visit after Easter.’
‘Nothing to fear’
AS a former principal and from a teaching background, Fine Gael Deputy Jim Daly said he does not think that 95% or 98% of teachers have anything to fear from an ombudsman for education.
‘It is not about making life difficult for them, it is about enhancing and recognising their role,’ he said. ‘It is about vindicating their rights in a lot of cases. Even when they are accused of things that they are not guilty of, it is important that there is somebody there to hear them.’
Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education & Skills, he said he does not accept the claim somebody made that the boards of management are accountable to patrons and the Minister. ‘It is well known that if a parent writes to the Minister to make a complaint about the board of management, the first thing the Minister will say is that he has no role or function relating to a board of management. I therefore reject that claim.’
On the role of an ombudsman for education, Deputy Daly said his issue with the ombudsman for children is that his remit is too narrow, as is evident from 75% of the complaints. ‘Somebody said it is only 300 complaints per year in the context of 4,000 schools and 917,000 students,’ he said. ‘However, the vast majority of parents would not dream of contacting the ombudsman for children with a complaint about their school or the board of management. They would not be aware of it as an avenue. Certainly in my role as a public representative I have advised several people but otherwise it would never dawn on them. They just get frustrated and go home. Some are very capable and use it but many are not aware of it.’
An ombudsman for education would be somebody who is specifically qualified in the area of education and who would understand education and be devoted to it, he said.