ETB provides update on proposed school merger

'Many options' to be explored in assessing needs at postprimary level in West Cavan

A new “collaborative approach” identifying the needs of post-primary pupils West Cavan is to be undertaken, signalling an apparent change in tact to previous assertions that a new school will be built in Ballyconnell by September 2023.

It follows a meeting last Tuesday, September 28 between local representatives and stakeholders and Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD. John Kearney, Chief Executive of Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board also attended the Buswell's Hotel sit down.

This afternoon, the ETB issued a statement concerning the proposed merger of St. Bricin's in Belturbet and St. Mogue's in Bawnboy. It has been shared with staff, Boards of Management and Parents/Guardians of students of the two local schools.

The outcome of the Dublin meeting is that all concerned have agreed to explore a “collaborative approach” which includes the ETB now undertaking a “robust analysis” of all potential options, informed by data on projected enrolments, as well as community need.

The ETB says it is currently progressing multi-million euro post-primary projects in Cavan Town's Breifne College, Virginia College and Kingscourt's Coláiste Dún an Rí, and add: “It is only fitting that similar progressive post-primary facilities of an impeccable international standing are delivered for West Cavan.”

It is notable that in the course of a two-page statement Ballyconnell is not mentioned once. There is explicit reference to a “new school” option, but does not specify where that would be located.

The ETB the department has provided it with “detailed data” on projected enrolments which indicate declining enrolment for both St Bricin's and St Mogue's in the coming years.

The department's projections are based upon current primary school enrolments, historical primary school transfer trends and ESRI projections of population by single year.

The ETB accepts there are “many variables” that can impact upon enrolments, and a change in the trend of pupils transferring into or out of a school can alter the landscape.

“It is important to note that post-primary school enrolments are projected to peak nationally in 2024. While there will be some local variations, the general trend in post-primary school enrolments is expected to be very much downward from the mid-2020s onwards. This is a feature of the changing age profile of the population and is happening despite overall population growth,” say the ETB, who comment that declining pupil enrolments have “profound” impact also on teacher allocation, subject options, and subject levels.

“Declining enrolments also present conflicting challenges in progressing school capital investment plans as all viable proposals must be duly reinforced with increased pupil enrolments being fully realised in individual classrooms.”

The ETB adds there are “many options” to be explored in seeking to meet the educational needs at postprimary level in West Cavan.

They stress that the department “has agreed” to a request from CMETB to amalgamate St. Bricin's College and St. Mogue's College. “To amalgamate both schools into a new school building provides certainty to post-primary students in West Cavan that they will have access to modern general classrooms, specialist rooms, PE Hall, and a fully equipped fitness suite as well as appropriate facilities for special needs students.”

The ETB statement concludes: “Other options, irrespective of the impositions of declining enrolments and the Public Spending Code, will also be fully explored by CMETB in seeking to meet the educational needs of postprimary level in West Cavan.”

A statement from the Department of Education confirmed that the minister recently met with Fianna Fail TD, Brendan Smith, local representatives, community group representatives and CMETB to discuss post-primary provision in West Cavan.

A spokesperson said: “It was agreed that there should be a collaborative approach to identify a pathway forward to meet the educational needs at post-primary level in West Cavan.

“Cavan Monaghan ETB will undertake a robust analysis of all potential options in this regard, informed by data on projected enrolments provided by the Department of Education and by community need.

“This assessment will reflect the value of community engagement and will involve all stakeholders. Any application for capital funding submitted to the Department by CMETB will be considered in line with the requirements of the Public Spending Code.”