The Irish Times view on the shortage of school places: a failure of planning

The areas experiencing the highest demand for school places are located in the hinterland of larger urban centres, as families are pushed out by rising accommodation costs

The pressure on school places being felt in County Kildare is replicated across the country, most notably in Wicklow, Dublin, Cork and Galway.

The Department of Education is quick to spread the blame to parents or the schools themselves. It cites parents applying to more than one school, or applying to schools outside their catchment area, as contributory factors. The high number of single sex schools also has a bearing.

Whilst these factors undoubtedly contribute to the problem, they are more symptoms than causes. The underlying problem is a failure by Government to plan for population growth and the related shortage of housing in urban areas. It is not a coincidence that the areas experiencing the highest demand for school places are located in the hinterland of larger urban centres as families are pushed out by rising accommodation costs.

There has been investment – €250 million in Kildare over the last five years alone – but money is only one element of the solution. The long lead- in time for opening new schools and the moving target – in terms of demand – caused by demographic change both contribute to the deficits. It can take in the region of 10 years. from inception to completion, to open a new school. Quicker timelines and better use of available demographic data would go a long way to solving the problem. The need for more investment is a given.

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The negative impact of a failure to plan for a growing population is not confined to education. It has had consequences, too, for the health service, but most of all for housing.

In all these areas the slack is taken up by those most affected. In health it takes the form of delays at A&E, long waiting lists and the shortage of beds. In housing, the symptoms are prices beyond reach, high rents and homelessness. In education, it is parents making long commutes to get their children to school, or even relocating or tutoring children at home.

Policymakers may plead that few foresaw the population boom. But they have no excuse for repeating this mistake in the years ahead.