Education Minister Noel Dempsey announced yesterday that a model will be set up in five areas to publish local plans, including the number of schools and where they should be located.
This is an issue of growing concern in rapidly expanding areas, particularly parts of greater Dublin, where very few schools are being built within sprawling residential areas.
Educate Together, an umbrella organisation for 31 multi-denominational primary schools, said anything that will improve the planning of new schools is favourable.
“Parents in areas where new schools are needed must be given an open and clear choice. The growing diversity of our population must be recognised; there’s no sense continuing to reinforce the monopoly of denominational schools,” said Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe.
The initiative will be piloted over the next school year in: Mayo (Westport/Newport); Laois (Mountmellick/Mountrath); North Dublin/South Louth and mid-Meath; the line of the N4 (from Leixlip through Kilcock, Enfield, Longwood, Kinnegad and Rochfortbridge to Kilbeggan); and north Kerry (including Tralee, Ballybunion, Causeway, Tarbert, Listowel and Castleisland).
Each plan will attempt to set out the blueprint for schools’ development in an area for up to 10 years.
Mr Dempsey said the aim was to ensure key decisions such as the number of schools an area requires are not made behind closed doors.
Fine Gael education spokesperson Olwyn Enright said the neglect of better planning in the past had resulted in overcrowding, particularly in commuter belts. “I fear the introduction of an additional layer of bureaucracy into the school building programme will have serious consequences for thousands of students in substandard school accommodation.”
The Irish National Teachers Organisation welcomed the proposal, but warned that consultation must not be used to delay essential building works.