The following letter was received from the Building and Planning Unit of the DES in response to questions the five Wicklow TDs asked on our behalf (click on the file to open):
Press Release: Brand new, three-storey primary school building lies empty for a year because of a dispute between the DES and WBS
10th May 2021
Brand new, three-storey primary school building lies empty for a year because of a dispute between the DES and WBS
Students and staff of Greystones Community National School in Co Wicklow are being denied access to their new school building, completed a year ago, and are being forced to continue their education in prefabs where they’ve been for six years. This is happening all because of a dispute between the DES and Western Building Systems (WBS). The cause of this dispute is unknown; it is deemed private and confidential.
“Would you be ok with your children attending school on a building site, in prefabs, even though their new school building was completed a year ago and is now lying empty? Being told over and over again that they can’t move into the new building because of a dispute between the DES and the builder?” These are the questions of a parent whose children are attending Greystones Community National School (Greystones CNS) in Co Wicklow.
This is a story that started with hope, a leap of faith and new beginnings for children, parents and teachers back in September 2015 when 20 Junior Infant “apples” started their primary school education in a newly appointed KWETB community school. Six years on, these children, now nearing the end of 4th Class, are still waiting to move into their new school building. A building that has been completed for almost a year but lies empty while they, and their younger school mates, continue to be educated in prefabs surrounded by a noisy construction site of yet more prefabs being installed for the new school year. A necessary contingency plan in case the dispute isn’t settled and they don’t get into their new building.
What has gone wrong? Why can’t the school move into the new building?
This is also a story about bad decisions and taxpayers’ money wasted. Bad decisions made by the Department of Education and Skills (DES). Decisions which include:
Taxpayers’ money wasted
Since Greystones CNS first occupied prefabs on the grounds of Greystones Rugby Club in October 2015, the DES has spent almost €1million in rent to the rugby club. This does not include the cost to the taxpayer of building and constructing the prefabs which have increased in number each year as the school grows. Money spent and wasted while a brand new, state of the art, three-storey school building lies idle.
A fabulous school continually let down by the DES
Greystones CNS is a fabulous school run by dedicated, energetic and creative teachers and staff. The children are learning in a wonderful ethos of equality, respect, care, excellence in education and community.
But these teachers and staff continue to be treated abysmally by the DES, and the children are being so badly let down by the adults who are charged with the responsibility of offering them a safe and settled environment in which to grow and learn.
“I have zero confidence or faith in anything the DES says. I do not accept their proposed plans and processes. I am calling for a swift and absolute result to the issue that serves the primary stakeholders in this, the children, who have been treated with utter disdain.” A parent of children at Greystones CNS.
Does the responsibility of these bad decisions lie solely with Norma Foley TD, the Minister in charge of the DES? Should we be asking what role the Planning and Building Unit of the DES has in this story? Is it this unit that makes the decisions and tells the Minister what to say and how to respond? Is this unit completely ignorant of the ramifications of its decisions?
Isn’t it time to call time on what seems like systematic failures within the DES? To demand consultation, transparency and accountability?
Not an isolated case
This is a story that is echoed around the country and not unique to Greystones CNS. A department’s consistent failure to provide adequate learning environments for the young people of this country at both primary and second level. A consistent failure to involve staff and parents about decisions being made and the consequences of these decisions. Parents and teachers who are part of the electorate body. Students and pupils who in a few years will join that electorate body. What is the DES teaching today’s children about equality, respect, care, excellence in education and community?
Notes to Press Release
Timeline for the construction of Greystones CNS School Building
The school’s early days:
Problems start to arise:
The need for a conciliator:
Construction of more prefabs at Greystones Rugby Club:
The cost of temporary school accommodation:
Contacts at Greystones CNS:
We are writing to give you a quick update regarding our recent PR campaign to open our new school building.
As you are all aware, our recent video "Dear Minister Foley'' gained huge media attention. The Department of Education ("DES") have agreed to now appoint a conciliator to try and find a suitable resolution between both parties. In addition, our local TDs had a meeting with senior officials from the DES. One of the outcomes from this meeting is that the DES has agreed to provide monthly progress updates to all parties involved, including our Patron and Principal.
Last Thursday Mr Kinane circulated recent correspondence received from the CEO of Western Building systems. The points in the letter made for very frustrating reading. PTP members have since been in touch with Jennifer Whitmore, Simon Harris and Stephen Donnelly. They confirmed that they have already brought this correspondence to the attention of DES officials and have sought a meeting with Western.
At a recent PTP committee meeting we discussed how to proceed with our PR campaign. We took the decision to wait and see if the DES stand by their word and provide monthly updates to school management. If the DES does not provide the agreed progress updates and there is no perceived movement in this situation, we are going to ramp up our campaign again in January. In the meantime we will keep in regular contact with our local TDs and keep you all updated on any developments as we become aware of them.
If anyone would like to discuss the matter further with any member of the PTP or to get involved with the campaign please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to everyone for all your support. We have a great school and we will keep pushing until we have our new building.
We are asking that you send the email below to our local TDs regarding our concerns about the new secondary school taking residence in our primary school building. Please copy the email and send it to each of the following:
*** Suggested email wording begins***
I am following up on my email sent in March to the Department of Education and Skills (DES highlighting my concerns regarding the decision made by them, to accommodate the newly announced Greystones Community College (GCC) within the building for the Greystones Community National School (GCNS). To date I have received no response from the DES regarding my concerns
As my elected representative I am requesting that you contact, as a matter of urgency, the DES on my behalf to obtain answers to my concerns outlined below.
My concerns in relation to accommodating the secondary school in the GCNS building are:
1. Planning Permission
The planning permission granted (file ref: 17/780) on the 02nd October 2017, for the development of the Greystones Community National School building in Charlesland, was subject to 14 conditions. Condition number 1 states, “This permission refers to the development as described in the documents lodged, save as the conditions here under require.”
The documents lodged by the applicant (The Minster of Education & Skills) describe the development as, “New Greystones Community National School (Roll No.204731) consisting of as new 3-storey, 24-classroom 4,673sq.m primary school……”
When will the new planning permission be lodged, to facilitate the change of use to a mixed primary and post-primary school?
2. Delay to the occupancy of the new building for GCNS.
The original completion date for the primary school was June 2019. It is now March 2020 and we are still awaiting a move in date. As a result, our children are still without a library, a sports hall, adequate SEN rooms, playground facilities etc.
Can the DES guarantee that issues (including but not limited to planning & technical) around the decision to change the development to a mixed use primary and post-primary school development, will not delay the move of the primary school into its permanent home before the current school year is over and guarantee that the children and teachers of GCNS will be the first occupants of their new building?
3. Reduced access to facilities for the primary school children.
The new building offers possibilities to our children that cannot be made available in temporary accommodation. These include a library, sports/drama hall, space for after school activities, playgrounds etc.
Can the DES guarantee that full access for GCNS students and teachers to these spaces in the building will not be affected or reduced?
4. Risk that GCC will be accommodated for more than one year.
The children of GCNS have spent the last four and a half years in prefabs, so I am only too aware of how long the building process can take.
Can the DES guarantee that GCC will only be accommodated in the GCNS school building for no more than one school year? Is there an accommodation plan in place for GCC for the school year 2021/22?
5. Safety of the primary school children.
There is a material difference in capacity and maturity between primary school children and post primary school children. GCNS has strict policies and procedures in place that ensure the safety of our children. Many of these policies are not applicable at post primary level and vice versa for example there are exceptions to reporting requirements for mandated persons under section 14(3) of the Children First 2015, which would not apply at primary level. I am concerned that my child will be exposed to maturational behaviours and practices that are not appropriate for young children.
Can the DES guarantee that GCNS will be able to influence the policies and behaviour being adopted by the post-primary school students, to ensure they are appropriate for a primary school environment, while they are accommodated within the GCNS building?
If the above guarantees cannot be delivered upon, I request that the decision to accommodate GCC within the GCNS school building for the 2020/2021 school year be reversed and that GCC is located back to the existing prefabs at the Greystones Rugby Club.
I would appreciate a response in relation to the above highlighted matters,
[PLEASE INSERT YOUR NAME]
*** Suggested email wording ends***
The PTP Committee has been busy since our last communication to you last Thursday evening, 5th March. The following work has taken place:
The email is only a guideline, if you wish to change it that is up to you. Please find below all the email addresses that you will need. Also feel free to post this on all social media platforms that the DES can be found on, for example, Twitter @education_Ire
For the meeting with the KWETB, we will want all questions submitted in writing to the PTP Committee. The rationale behind this is that we want every parent’s concerns to be addressed but given the large number of people expected on the night we would be fearful that some parents may not get an opportunity to ask their question. We feel that submitting the questions will also give the meeting a better structure. Once we have a date for the meeting we will send you out details on how to submit your questions.
We will be in touch later on in the week to provide you with another update. In the meantime, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact a member of the PTP committee.
On behalf of the PTP Committee
The PTP committee met last night to discuss the communications from the KWETB and the Board regarding our new school building being used to accommodate the 1st year students of the new secondary school due to open its doors in September 2020.
We have had much feedback from you in the 24 hours since receiving this news. We are currently working on a response and a strategy on how best to move forward while being a representative voice for the parents of GCNS and supporting the staff. We will provide you with details of our plans by Monday next week as we are currently liaising with the school.
The PTP is reaching out to the KWETB to arrange a meeting, we will inform you of the logistics once confirmed.
We are also making initial contact with our local elected officials and the Department of Education and Skills to express our thoughts on this decision and how it has been made.
We appreciate that a lot of parents are angry and scared of what this means for our wonderful school. However, GCNS is more than just a building. We might only be in situ less than 5 years but we have built up a wonderful community of parents who are so supportive of their school and their child’s teachers. We have a principal who always puts our children and their needs first. Lets work together to protect the reputation of this wonderful community school that goes above and beyond to ensure our children have a wonderful educational experience every day.
We will be asking for your input, should you wish to provide it, in our next communication on Monday.
On behalf of the PTP Committee
We are thrilled that our library in the new school will include books in languages other than English. Not only will this encourage our young readers whose first language isn't English to pick up a book, it will also encourage all our children to explore books written in other languages.