Ireland

Harris criticises Department of Education as families left without school places

Scores of students are receiving home tutoring due to a lack of places in oversubscribed schools.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris (PA)
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris (PA) Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris (PA)

Minister Simon Harris has criticised the Department of Education for putting “utterly unacceptable” stress on families left without school places.

He said the department needs to get “much better” at forward planning for identifiable population booms.

The criticism comes after it was revealed that scores of students are receiving home tutoring due to a lack of places in oversubscribed schools.

Mr Harris, who is the senior minister in the separate Department of Further Education, said this included children in his hometown of Greystones, Co Wicklow.



He said: “My view is that the Department of Education needs to get much better at planning and much better at forward projection.

“The stress and strain that they have placed on my friends, my neighbours and my constituents in Greystones, in my hometown, is utterly unacceptable.”

However, he said that Greystones Community College was able to commit additional school places on Friday morning after engagement with the Department of Education.

Mr Harris said ongoing demographic changes mean certain identifiable towns in commuter belts will see “massive population growth”.

He said schools are “bursting at the seams” waiting for extensions to be approved or for tenders to be awarded for the construction of new buildings.

The minister said the department could take those actions quickly, adding: “That would give schools the confidence to be able to assist the department in – quite frankly – a mess that is not of the schools’ making.”

Asked if Education Minister Norma Foley was failing to do enough on planning, Mr Harris said she was doing an “excellent job”.

However, he added: “There are units specifically within the department that do have a role in relation to the planning, projection, population – and they’ve gotten it wrong in relation to my hometown and I’m not best pleased about it, nor are my constituents.”

There are 81 pupils nationally who are in receipt of home-tuition grants due to not having a school place while the Department of Education school placement solutions are being worked through.

A Department of Education spokesman said it had invested heavily in school infrastructure in recent years in response to the increase in demand, in order to ensure that there is a school place for every child.

He said the Department had invested 4.3 billion euro in school projects around the country since 2020.

The spokesman said it uses a variety of sources to determine demand for school places, including enrolment figures, census statistics, child benefit data, and construction activity.

He added that school placement requirements are “very dynamic” and can also involve students moving areas during the school year, including from overseas.

The department said it provides home tuition as a short-term intervention in limited cases, but recognised it is not an alternative for a school placement.