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School ran up €500,000 debt on refurbishments

A school that racked up €500,000 debts on refurbishments with little educational benefit, and where teachers taught subjects they were not qualified to teach, has been slated by Department of Education inspectors.

De La Salle College in Waterford City has had to take out a loan guaranteed by its trustees to clear its debts.

The inspectors also found serious tensions between principal Gearóid O’Brien and the two deputy principals. They said issues which were discussed but not finalised at board level were presented to them by the principal as board decisions.

The school’s trustees, the Le Chéile Trust, appointed a manager in May after Education Minister Ruairi Quinn approved a request to dissolve the board.

But a whole-school evaluation in February found:

nA pattern of teachers teaching subjects outside their speciality, which was the case for more than one in four first-year classes;

nSPHE (Social, personal and health education, including relationship and sexuality education), was not taught to most junior cycle students;

nPoor attendance by students, but serious lapses in recording attendance and returning data to the National Educational Welfare Board as required by law;

nModern languages were optional from the start of first year.

The inspectors praised positive relations between the 1,174 students and 75 teachers, many of whom raised concerns about subject teaching. However, the report is highly critical of governance and the focus in board meeting minutes on infrastructural development and financial management.

"Some of the recent costly refurbishments have little educational purpose, and staff expressed the view that they departed from the school tradition of prioritising supports for needy students," the inspectors wrote.

Michael Denny, who was appointed as manager of the all-boys’ college in May,said several issues have been dealt with. New timetables ensure most teachers take classes in their own subjects and SPHE is taught across junior cycle. He said attendance data was being recorded and reported properly. "Difficulties around the school’s senior management team will take some time to address and can’t be rushed. The focus is to ensure the day-to-day running of the school is conducted smoothly and in the best interests of students."