At long last, the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, has finally recognised what has long been a glaring and obvious reality - that Galway city and its hinterland is in need of a new secondary school.
Late last week, the Minister announced that Galway was to be included in the Government's national programme of new schools for 2019 - 2022. The proposed school will be located in either the city or Oranmore area and accommodate up to 1,000 pupils. It is planned to open in 2019.
Even the briefest skim through social media over the last number of days could have given the impression the new school will automatically fall under the patronage of Educate Together. This is not so. The process to appoint a patron has yet to begin and there is no guarantee the body, which oversees five primary schools in County Galway, with a total of 510 pupils, will be patron of the new school.
It would be a huge disappointment if Educate Together were not awarded this patronage. The Galway Educate Together 2nd Level School Start-Up Group, composed of, and driven mostly by, parents, was at the forefront in highlighting the need for a new secondary school for Galway, and it is largely their campaign which has resulted in convincing Minister Bruton that Galway get such a school.
The need for a new second level school is overwhelming. Numbers attending the 11 secondary schools in the Department of Education's Galway City Planning Area - which includes schools in the city as well as Claregalway - have increased by c300 each year over the last four years and currently stands at 6,168 pupils. Works to increase capacity across city schools are taking place, to allow it to expand to 6,711.
'The Galway Educate Together 2nd Level School Start-Up Group was at the forefront in recognising the need for a new secondary school for Galway'
However these expansion works means Galway's secondary schools can only accommodate current levels of growth for the next two terms, meaning that by September 2018, there will be a shortage of places for pupils about to enter second level. Furthermore, an independent academic study by NUI Galway's Geography Department, also identified 2018 as the year when demand for post-primary places in Galway would exceed available capacity.
So why should it be an Educate Together school? Apart from the sterling work of the GET2LS, there is also the reality of the demand for the kind of school that Educate Together can provide.
Four of the city's schools are under the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board while the other seven are under the patronage of religious bodies. The Educate Together primary schools are located in Newcastle, Knocknacarra, Claregalway, Kilcolgan, and Tuam. Many students from these primaries are likely to want to opt for an Educate Together secondary if one is available.
This is made clear by the fact that the ET start-up group has collected Expressions of Interest for 1,500 children whose parents want them to have the choice of an ET secondary education. It is worth noting that the Expressions of Interest did not come solely from parents whose children are already in an ET school, but are for children in more than 50 primary schools throughout the Galway area. A further indication of the level of demand was an online petition to the Minister Bruton, conducted by the group, which resulted in c1,700 signatures in a four week period at the beginning of 2017.
There are also needs generated by sociological trends in Irish society. Over the last 20 years, Galway has become increasingly diverse in terms of religion and ethnicity. The gradual secularisation of Irish society and the increasing concerns over baptism requirements and church patronage of schools, have made Educate Together - which keenly stresses that its schools are multi-denominational, welcoming "all faiths and none" - a necessity. As a result, a secondary school reflecting and accommodating these factors, would be provided by an Educate Together ethos.
'It would make sense to have a new school in Galway managed by a patron not already in Galway. An obvious example is Educate Together' - Seán Kyne
It must be said that all Galway West's five TDs, and the three Galway East TDs, have been extremely supportive of an Educate Together secondary school for Galway. This month, for example, saw the eight TDs draft a letter to the Minister making the case for a new second-level school for Galway, so the local political will is there to make this happen.
Importantly, there are positive signals coming from the direction of Government. Having once been dismissive of the need for a new secondary school for Galway, Minister Bruton has come around, and indicated that the new school should "be responsive to patronage demand". He also confirmed a new online patronage process system is being developed to make it easier for parents to have their say on the management model of new schools in their area.
Insider has also noted how the Minister for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Seán Kyne, and his party and constituency colleague Hildegarde Naughton, have both called for the new school to be under Educate Together patronage.
Minister Kyne said: "While I do not wish to pre-empt the patronage process it would make sense to have a new school in Galway managed by a patron not already in Galway. An obvious example is the Educate Together model which does not yet have a second-level school in Galway. A new school under that patron would serve the hundreds of pupils attending the Educate Together primary schools in Galway.” Dep Naughton noted: "The announcement means that Educate Together will be able to apply for the patronage of a new school. It is an application I will strongly support."
Such statements indicate GET2LS could be pushing at an open door, and certainly Insider hopes this will be the case. However GET2LS will not be taking anything for granted and knows it must continue to argue its cause, build on the political goodwill it has created, and convert this into Educate Together being awarded patronage of the new school. Galway deserves no less.