Irish school principals welcome investments but say more is needed

School leaders across the Irish-medium sector in Derry have welcomed recent investments in the schools estate by the Department of Education.

By Kevin Mullan
Tuesday, 5th July 2022, 12:16 pm

However, principals at Gaelscoil na Daróige, Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir and Bunscoil Cholmcille have insisted that more investment is needed for an educational sector that has enjoyed significant growth in Derry over recent years.

The local educationalists were speaking after Education Minister Michelle McIlveen outlined recent investments in response to an Assembly Question from Foyle MLA Pádraig Delargy.

Ms. McIlveen stated: “At Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir, additional accommodation and repairs to the existing premises were completed in 2019/20 at an approved construction cost of £269,000.

Gaelscoil na Daróige in Ballymagroarty which has enjoyed significant growth over recent years.

“Further work to erect safeguarding fencing was completed in 2020/21 at a cost of £11,000.

“At Bunscoil Cholmcille, a number of minor works projects have been proposed to address existing needs within the school, including the provision of CCTV, a multi-purpose hall with school meals servery and new toilet provision.

“Recently completed minor works include resurfacing completed in 2021/22 and the installation of safeguarding fencing in 2020/21 at a combined cost of approximately £50,000.

“Gaelscoil na Daróige has seen substantial capital investment in relation to minor works.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

“In November 2021 a scheme to deliver dining accommodation and an additional classroom at the school was completed at a cost of approximately £215,000.

“Furthermore, in June 2021, the Department purchased privately owned land adjacent to the school on the Cosquin Road valued at £210,000.

“The Department is also is the process of finalising the purchase of lands owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to the value of £45,000.

“The purchase of these additional lands will allow for future expansion at the school.

“Currently, the Education Authority is in the process of completing a Feasibility Report and Business Case for the replacement of classrooms at the school.

“In addition, a Business Case was approved in February 2022 for a gate entry system at a cost of £15,700.”

The principals in the schools have welcomed the recent investment through minor works which, they said, have led to vast improvements, including in Gaelscoil na Daróige for instance where for the first time, dining accommodation has been provided.

The schools have stressed however that the investment should be assessed in the context of a legacy of chronic lack of investment in Irish Medium in the city.

They argued that the investment in the schools was ‘not a luxury or extra accommodation but rather a critical necessity to alleviate overcrowding and severe under-resourcing and to address health and safety concerns’.

Fiachra Ó Donghaile, principal at Gaelscoil na Daróige, explained: “Prior to the delivery of dining accommodation, our staffroom served as a makeshift servery, a special needs facility and assembly area.”

Mr. Ó Donghaile told the ‘Journal’ that the recent investment was simply the ‘tip of the iceberg in relation to what is required’.

“The accommodation at the school still includes three classrooms paid for by the community prior to Departmental funding.

“Many of the existing classrooms fall significantly below the Department of Education NI (DENI) handbook for accommodation and two of the classrooms were initially identified for replacement over eight years ago.

“We look forward to the completion of the Feasibility Report and Business Case for the replacement of classrooms at the school and would urge all involved to expedite the process.”

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“Work was completed on our new classrooms in 2019/20 and although this was extremely welcome it does not negate the need for a capital build.

“The accommodation was to cater for our growing numbers but was based on our enrolment in 2017.

“We have experienced significant growth since that time.

“What we really need is a purpose built school and the protocol for identifying schools for capital builds needs to be explained in terms of the Department’s statutory duty to promote Irish Medium Schools as no Irish Medium Schools were on the most recent list,” she said.

Máire Mhic Lochlainn, principal of Bunscoil Cholmcille, the first established Irish medium school in Derry and the second in the north, reported that they are still existing in mobile accommodation nearly 40 years later.

“While some minor works have been carried out in the past year with other projects being proposed to address existing needs, they are addressing basic safeguarding needs and lack of basic facilities such as a hall/servery, toilets etc.

“While we aim to always provide good quality education and have very supportive parents, children deserve the same modern facilities as every other school in the 21st century.

“With increasing enrolment, what we really need is a purpose built school that provides all facilities under the one roof.

“The size of the existing mobile classrooms fall below what the DE Handbook recommends.

“This hampers addressing the various needs of pupils, working with composite classes, the list is endless.”

The schools welcomed recent engagements and progress with the Department.

They said they are looking forward to working in a more strategic way to ensure that the growing number of children in Irish Medium schools enjoy the same quality of accommodation as afforded to their peers.