Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Press Release VFM examination report of Planning of Second Level School Accommodation

Press Release issued on 17 January 1997

VFM examination report of Planning of Second Level School Accommodation

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr John Purcell, has carried out an examination of the planning of second level school accommodation by the Department of Education. The Department spent ?39m on the second level school building programme in 1995 and expenditure for 1996 is estimated at ?30m.

The national enrolment level in second level schools is expected to increase up to 1997/98 and then decline significantly but different enrolment patterns may occur in individual local catchment areas. Apart from enrolment trends, the level of capital investment in school building is influenced by factors such as the condition of existing accommodation, amalgamation of schools and curricular policies.

Main Findings of Report

The Department of Education has traditionally adopted a reactive approach to the provision of school accommodation in so far as it responds to demands for school places and improvements rather than formulating and implementing a long-term strategic plan.

A number of key policy decisions have been taken by the Department, following the publication in 1995 of a White Paper on education policy, which will have significant implications for the planning of school accommodation. These include the setting up of a Commission on School Accommodation Needs and the proposed establishment of regional education boards.

The Department's current systems and procedures could be developed to improve its ability to plan and manage effectively the second level school building programme. These include

The Department should adopt a more proactive approach in bringing about successful amalgamations of schools

Building projects are prioritised for funding based on consensus judgements by officials without using a formal set of fixed quantified criteria. The use of such criteria would ensure that the most deserving projects would be included in the building programme on a timely basis. The Department is developing a points-based prioritisation system to identify clearly the relative priority of each project.

Information about the current stock of second level school accommodation, which is held on paper files, is not readily accessible and is not always up to date. A comprehensive computerised inventory of second level school buildings, which would include data on the quantity and quality of existing accommodation, would assist the Department in assessing the extent of current needs. An inventory of primary school accommodation was carried out by the Department in 1994.

In assessing the need for individual building projects, the Department determines the current level of occupancy of the school in question and also prepares enrolment projections for all the schools in the relevant catchment area. However, information of this nature is not available for second level schools generally. The availability of such information would enable the Department to identify areas where potential accommodation difficulties might arise and allow time for considered action.

Output targets which could be used for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the school building programme have not been set by the Department. Examples of such targets would be the number of school places provided or the average capital cost of each place. The Department intends to introduce some output targets in the future.

The construction of permanent extensions is being funded by the Department for a number of new schools which themselves were only recently completed. In some cases this is due to changes in circumstances since the time that the projects were initially appraised. When this report was being finalised the Department stated that it often provided accommodation on a phased basis due to budgetary constraints. Nevertheless, the reliability of the project appraisal process and the extent to which value for money was achieved may be open to question.

For further information about the report contents, please contact:

Seamus McCarthy

Tel: +353 1 679 3122

Fax: +353 1 679 3288

e-mail: Seamus_McCarthy@audgen.irlgov.ie

Publication Details

VFM Report Number 10: Planning of Second Level School Accommodation

ISBN 0-7076-3732-5

Price ?5

Government Publications Sales Office

Sun Alliance House

Molesworth Street

Dublin 2

Tel: +353 1 661 3111

Fax: +353 1 475 2760


The contents of this page were last updated on 26/09/03