A developing school, told last week the site due to become its permanent base will now be used for a new special school, hopes long-term planning for its future location will begin now.
Owenabue Educate Together National School (Owenabue ETNS) was due to move to what would have been its permanent home this September in Gaelscoil Charraig Uí Leighin, Carrigaline.
However, due to a serious shortage of special education placements this year, the Department of Education announced last Friday that a new special school would open at the site instead.
Owenabue ETNS, which is currently in temporary accommodation since it opened last year, is due to expand and to open its first ASD (autism spectrum disorder) class in September. In the coming years, the school is expected to grow to 16 classes, as well as special classes.
The school had also planned to open a second ASD class next year, as it currently has a waiting list of 15 children. However, the lack of a permanent base makes that more unlikely now.
Temporary accommodation should be found for September, according to Caitriona Golden, Owenabue ETNS principal.
"My main concern is the longer term," she said. “Even if we resolve the issue for September, or even ideally if we find a site that will do us for the next three to four years, there has to be a plan in place for what’s happening then.”
“These things don’t happen quickly so there needs to be movement on identifying and acquiring a site now really for there to be something in place before we’re too big for wherever we end up next.”
It’s hugely important that the special school opens, Ms Golden added. However, in the announcement last week, there was no mention it would impact on parents of children enrolled at Owenabue ETNS.
“I think they found that very difficult, in particular the parents whose children are enrolled for our autism class in September.”
One family has been fighting for two years to get a place for their child, who is seven.
“They felt like ‘finally, we’re sorted, we’ll be here for the next eight years’, then three weeks later, this comes and they don’t know where the school will be, and they don’t know what space will be like.”
The change in plans for Owenabue ETNS is an example of the serious, ongoing challenges facing new and developing schools, according to Emer Nowlan, Educate Together chief executive.
“While the provision of a much-needed new special school for the area is to be welcomed, considerable improvements are required in our wider planning systems so that school communities have certainty in relation to accommodation much sooner, and so that they do not have to move multiple times.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it is currently working with Educate Together to meet the short- to medium-term accommodation needs of Owenabue ETNS. The department met with the school on Tuesday to discuss options.