'Preposterous situation' sees Cork students take long bus journey to school

'Preposterous situation' sees Cork students take long bus journey to school

Cork Educate Together Secondary School students  Amy Talaat, Síofra Murphy and Clara Kriwan about to get on the bus to school from Douglas, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

On weekday mornings, students at the Cork Educate Together Secondary School (CETSS) are picked up by bus in Rochestown, close to the 22-acre site where their school should be, and brought into the city.

Their school is based temporarily at Griffith College, near St Luke’s.

Some students had to leave and go to a school closer to home when it made the move here from its previous lodgings in Mahon in 2018.

Where it is now, CETSS has no PE facilities of its own. The corridors are cramped, and its students hate the bus journey through traffic, during rush hour, to bring them far outside their catchment area.

They thought they would be in their permanent school building by third year, but now transition year students say they are losing faith that they will have seen progress by the time they graduate.

Between rent and transport, the school estimates €2m has been spent on their temporary arrangements, in what they describe as a “needless waste” of public resources.

Officially sanctioned in 2015, and officially opened in September 2016, progress with the permanent building has been “glacial” since it hit a planning setback in 2019 — permission was refused on traffic grounds.

Now students are calling for action. 

Ryan Roberts, who lives in Ringaskiddy, is in transition year at CETSS.

“There aren't enough of the facilities that we need,” he told the Irish Examiner.

The school uses the nearby army barracks for PE, with the Glen Sports Centre another backup. 

“We don’t have a music room either," says Ryan.

Rising at 6.30am, the journey to school takes him about an hour. 

“In the new school, that distance would be reduced to 20 minutes. I’d like to ask the Department of Education how long it will take, and perhaps if we can have a look at the process. I think it should be fast-tracked.” 

His classmate Thomas Staunton agrees, saying the delays are “poor form”, especially after seeing another school recently granted millions in funding for a refurbishment project.

“We haven’t got a look-in for two or three years, for our actual school building. What’s taking so long?” 

Fourth-year student Sumaya Mohammed lives in Rochestown, less than 10 minutes from where the school will eventually be built. 

“Where we are now, it's not a building designed for secondary students and college students together.” 

Transition year student Lucas Feller says he likes the philosophy of the school but not the physical environment. 

“I quite like the anti-bullying policy, and the freedom we have here. I think they [teachers] are very supportive of students.

"But we’ve been here quite a while, and it’s really crowded, especially with Covid. We weren’t meant to be here this long. Why is it taking so long; what issues are we hitting?” 

Teacher Rúadhán Ó Deasmhúnaigh said the school has been creative with the limited spaces.

“From the time that I’ve been here, we’ve been slowly repurposing offices as classrooms or repurposing storerooms. 

"It’s just a matter of using every centimetre of space we have available to us in the most creative way possible to squeeze the most out of it. It adds a layer of administration in terms of planning.” 

New schools are established based on geographical demographics. Once a patron is announced, they tend to open shortly after, whether or not they have a permanent school building.

It leads to situations where new schools have to open in rugby club changing rooms, or in the bar of a soccer club, or the corporate box of a racetrack, according to Colm O’Connor, CETSS principal.

“Because there is no obligation on developers to provide this sort of infrastructure, this scenario is replicated on a regular basis around the country,” he said.

“These protracted mismatches in the provision of houses and education facilities lead to just outrageous scenarios.” 

At the same time that the school’s planning was refused in 2019, Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for hundreds of houses “up the hill” from the school’s site on the Carrigaline Road.

“You have this sort of preposterous situation where children living in hundreds of houses would have to be driven in cars to their nearest school, whereas if they’d left the school go ahead, all those children could walk or cycle to school.

There’s “profound frustration” among parents, he said.

“Once we moved to the other side of the city, it became too much for some students. It was just too long a day when they were trying to beat traffic at both ends of the day.

“It led to this ludicrous situation now, where the department is paying probably €80,000, €90,000 in bus transport to take students to the other side of the city."

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