Posted by Declan Varley, Galway Advertiser in News.

Last February, Claregalway resident Paddy Tobin emerged disappointed from meetings with second-level schools hosted by Claregalway primary school. It was intended as an information evening for parents of children starting school in Sept 2011. The message was clear; due to population pressures, many schools, that previously provided places, will no longer offer places to children from the Claregalway area.

There is no second-level school near Claregalway, so children travel long distances to fourteen different schools. In the last four or five years many of these schools have gone well over capacity. In fact, the Dept of Education recognised the need for the school in Claregalway in a 2007 report.

So he went home that night in February and in frustration asked himself ‘Why doesn’t Claregalway have a school?’ ‘Surely we have the population right now?’ He started searching the Dept of  Education website for information and discovered that there are six primary schools with 1100 children within 3–4 miles of Claregalway. Another 800 children attend schools within a further two miles; a total of 1900 children in the area.

Mr Tobin contacted Frank Fahey TD, talked to other parents in the area, and got advice from the County Galway VEC. In April, a proposal was submitted to the Dept of Education showing projected numbers of 720 children for a new school.

In May, he was joined by Michael Hannon, Cllr Malachy Noone and Pat Coen (Principal Claregalway NS) and distributed endorsement forms to parents around Claregalway. To date, 565 families have given written confirmation that they would like to send 883 current primary-school children to a second-level school in Claregalway. There are now 108 of those children that wish to start in Sept 2011 if the school opens in time.

In June a general public meeting was held. It was well attended by parents and public representatives who gave their full support for the new school proposal. A parent’s action group/committee was formed at the meeting. After further meetings in June/July, Co Galway VEC was selected as the parents’ choice for school patron.  Discussions with the VEC have focused on the establishment of a community collegte, provisionally named ‘Coláiste Bhaile Chláir’.

Letters of support from public representatives, clubs, community groups and nearby employers were received. A website, and a Facebook page were set up. Ahead of a meeting with the Tánaiste, further analysis was conducted on the number of confirmed preferences from endorsement forms, and analysis of the existing schools.

Members of the committee, Paddy Tobin, Michael Hannon, Pat Coen, and Ronan Staunton, with Sean Duffy (Education Officer, Co Galway VEC) met with the Tánaiste Mary Couglan (Minister for Education and Skills) and Tony Dalton (Principal Officer, Planning and Building Unit, Dept of Education and Skills) on the afternoon of July 20. The meeting was also attended by Frank Fahey TD, Minister Eamon Ó Cuív, Noel Grealish TD, Padraic McCormack TD, and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames. Apologies and expressions of support were received from Michael D Higgins and Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin.

The response at the meeting with the Tánaiste was very positive and the presentation of the case for the new school was very well received. The Tánaiste acknowledged the pressing needs of the area and referred to schools in Athenry, Oranmore and Galway in her assessment of the situation. She explained that she had also met with deputations from these areas and that she could clarify the situation and formalise the Dept’s position regarding the new school very soon.

Since then the committee has continued collecting endorsements, visiting schools, and holding meetings with various stakeholders. A recent analysis of the distances travelled by children to existing second-level schools showed that the new school will reduce the second-level travel distances of the children from the six closest primary schools by 71%, a saving of 919,047 km travelled per year when the school reaches full capacity (a 1,011 million km reduction in travel for children from all eleven primary schools in the area).

Informal feedback from the Dept in September has been very positive. The committee has worked very closely with the Dept and responded to its questions and requests. The parents’ committee sent a letter to the Tánaiste a few weeks ago, requesting a formal decision as soon as possible in order to allow anxious parents to formally sign up their children for September 2011.

The letter emphasised that the parents do not want nor expect any premature announcement regarding capital allocation for building a new school. The parents area very happy to follow normal Dept procedure in this regard. The urgency is for immediate school recognition and opening in interim buildings for September 2011.

The committee has organised a general meeting for all the parents of the surrounding area, and public representatives, on Monday 18th at 8.30pm in the Claregalway Hotel. Some parents have already received rejections regarding places in schools for September 2011, so this meeting will provide a timely opportunity to answer parents’ questions on the status and progress of the Claregalway school.