Campaigners for a new second level Educate Together school are to meet with the Kildare West Wicklow Education Training Board (ETB) in early January in a bid to progress their aims.
Formerly Kildare VEC, the ETB is the largest education provider in the two counties, providing education and training through community national schools, second level schools, PLC courses and adult education.
Dep Martin Heydon said he has arranged the meeting to discuss school projects in Kildare South.
“I continue to support the campaign for a new secondary school for Kildare South. The South Kildare Educate Together (SKET) campaign group have been very active and constructive in trying to advance the case for a new school, gathering support from concerned parents and meeting local political representatives, Minister Richard Bruton and An Taoiseach,” he said.
“At the meeting with Minister Bruton, he asked if the group had met with the local ETB to discuss possible synergies with them and arising from that I have organised a meeting between the campaign group and KWETB to be attended by Kildare South TDs in early January.”
Dep Heydon said he recently reasserted the pressure for choice of secondary school places in South Kildare to the Minister while speaking in the Dail on the Education (Schools Admissions) Bill 2016.
“The Minister is very aware from recent meetings and representations of the pressure for secondary school places in South Kildare, particularly in the Newbridge area. I took this opportunity to again highlight the concerns of parents who have contacted me with real fears for the future schooling of their children,” he added.
He explained that officials from the Department have argued that future demand can be met from existing schools and planned extensions, but there is concern this may not be the case.
“Planned extensions for Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge, CPC Kilcullen and Athy Community College need to be advanced as soon as possible to take pressure off these schools,” he said.
Dep Heydon pointed out the Schools Admissions Bill is being dealt with at Committee stage this week. It deals with enrolment policies and will among other things prohibit the charging of fees for those waiting for a place or trying to get into a new school.
“South Kildare has one of the fastest growing and youngest populations in the Country and I have asked the Minister to ensure that the Department closely monitor the changing demographics in the area to ensure that there is adequate capacity at secondary school level for our growing population in the coming years,” he concluded.
SKET has pointed out the Department's calculations take account of Newbridge College places, which are not accessible to the general public, as it is a fee paying school. The group also argues that other factors such as projected population growth is not being taken into consideration.
It recently expressed concerns about the lack of special needs education classes at second level for Newbridge and Kildare town.
“We know that the Department is ignoring the clear demand and need for a new second level school in this area. We know the Department is ignoring the right of families to choose the ethos of any new second level school. Now we have learned that the Department is ignoring children with special needs in the area,” said Elizabeth Bartholomew, SKET chairperson.
In response, the Department said there are 942 students with ASD attending schools in Co. Kildare, with 520 students attending mainstream schools and accessing in-school supports including Resource teaching and SNA support.
"322 students are attending 59 ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) special classes, including six early intervention classes, 41 primary ASD classes and 12 post primary ASD classes. A further 100 students with ASD are placed in four special schools," it said.
"The NCSE (The National Council for Special Education) has indicated that it is satisfied there are currently sufficient ASD special class placements available to meet demand in Kildare. However both the Department and the NCSE recognise that there has been challenges in opening special classes in some post primary schools in Kildare," she said.
"The NCSE has indicated that, in general, this is related to the availability of accommodation in these schools. The Departments Building Unit has advised that Special Needs units (SNUs) are currently under construction at St Conleth's Vocational School, Newbridge and Ard Scoil na Trionoide, Athy."
In addition, major building projects for a number of schools in Kildare are included on the Department's 6 Year Construction Plan and Special Needs units (SNUs) will be included in these Developments. The schools in question are: St Paul’s Secondary School, Monasterevin; Naas Community College, Naas; Cross & Passion College, Kilcullen; Athy Community College; and St Farnan’s Post Primary, Prosperous.