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Mother fears children in Dublin 8 are being ‘overlooked’ with lack of secondary schools

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Jane Toolan, from Inchicore, is one of the many parents in the wider Dublin 8 area finding it impossible to secure a secondary school place for this September.

She told the Irish Independent she was always concerned for this moment but presumed that, with the number of people moving in, “the gap would be filled”.

Despite five existing secondary schools and some more nearby, a local campaign group says that, with a gap of 600 students, Dublin 8 meets the criteria for a new school under Department of Education modelling.

“It feels that we’ve been really overlooked by the department, and any time we raise any of the statistics, worries, or concerns, we get very little engagement,” Ms Toolan said.

She said there was a “brief glimmer of hope” in 2017 when they were told there was going to be a new school built in the area.

However, the school was built in Sandymount, which is roughly a 30-minute drive from the area and an hour-long commute for students on public transport.

Ms Toolan sent her daughter to a primary Gaelscoil with a religious patron, but is not willing to do so for the next stage of her daughter’s education and is considering a multi-denominational school in Rathfarnham.

The latest figures from last year’s census show that the percentage of non-Catholics living in Dublin 8 is 62pc, which is double the national average.

While Dublin 8 has a high proportion of non-Catholics, this is not reflected in the distribution of newly established multi-denominational schools.

Genie Toolan Carroll, who will be starting secondary school this September, with her brother Cian

Children in the area finishing primary school who wish to attend a multi-denominational school can only apply to Sandymount, Harold’s Cross or Rathfarnham, leaving each family with a hefty commute ten times per week.

“My daughter is 11, and she doesn’t have a concept yet of what commuting is. We’re looking at an hour and 10-minute bus right now for her,” Ms Toolan said.

“Or else we are forced to drive her, and I have cold sweats thinking about that. My husband and I work shifts, and we won’t always be there in the morning to bring her, and I’m anticipating that stress.”

Research carried out at Maynooth University shows that only 11pc of post-primary students living in the Kilmainham B local electoral district commute to school by active travel, including cycling or walking.

This is the lowest level in all of Dublin city and illustrates the low level of active transport, along with the long commutes that most children in the area face to get to secondary school each day.

Ms Toolan said one of the “saddest parts” for her daughter is the loss of her school community.

Looking at a previous sixth class from the year ahead of her, with 28 pupils, the students in that class went to 13 different schools across the city.

“We’re looking at something similar, and we have a lovely school community, lovely friends, networks of parents, and this group that has been together for eight years will just be scattered to the wind,” she said.

“It just feels wrong that there isn’t an obvious local school that’s multi-denominational that everyone can travel to.”

Shari Ifran, President of the Irish Second Level Students Union, believes this kind of disruption could have an impact on the mental health of students.

“The main concern here is the wellbeing of the students. Clear next steps and timelines must be put in place to reduce anxiety for students without a secured place,” he said.

“No student wants to be cut off from their peers and to have their social development impacted.

“We need increased investment in our schools to ensure there is a place for all students in our growing areas and so students can thrive and not just survive.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said it “has invested heavily in school infrastructure in recent years in response to the increase in demand for school places”.

“Since 2020, the department has invested in the region of €4.3bn in our schools throughout the country, involving the completion of over 750 school building projects.

“Construction is currently under way at approximately 300 other projects, which includes 34 new school buildings.

“With respect to post primary provision in the Dublin 8 area, there is significant post primary capacity within Dublin 8 and across nearby schools, particularly in schools to the south and west of Dublin 8.

“This choice of schools available to families in Dublin 8 includes denominational and multi-denominational, single-sex and co-educational schools.

“However, the Department continues to keep school place requirements in the area, as with all other parts of the country, under review.

“As part of planning for September 2024, data on applications for admission has been received by the department from post-primary schools across areas of enrolment pressure, including areas in Kildare, Wicklow, Dublin, Galway and Cork.

“The department is working with schools and patrons to make additional places available in a small number of areas where a need has been identified.

“While some applicants may not yet have received an offer of a school place for 2024/25, families can be assured that all children who require a school place will be provided with one.”

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