3. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the initiatives being taken to enable greater choice for each gender regarding the school curriculum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14682/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)

Deputy Thomas Byrne: My question probably should have been worded slightly more clearly. I am asking about shared facilities in schools. I recently met a delegation of transition year students from St. Joseph’s girls’ school in Lucan. They would love to be able to study technical graphics and building construction. They do not have the facilities in their school and they would like to share with a boys’ school, and vice versa the boys would like to study home economics in the girls’ school.

Deputy Richard Bruton: The prepared reply does not cover that. It deals with how the curriculum is designed to ensure that young people can participate regardless of gender. It also deals with schools going through the first phase of the new leaving certificate course in computer science and how we have ensured a gender mix in participation in those areas. It further deals with the ambitions to expand particularly participation by women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, STEM, subjects through the promotion of co-curricular and out-of-school STEM learning opportunities by girls, and addressing gaps in physical infrastructure in schools as part of the capital plan.

I would be very happy to look at any suggestion that is coming forward about shared facilities. It certainly is a practice that is successful in some areas. It probably offers a rapid way of ensuring access to facilities where perhaps a school a school for historical reasons did not have something such as a physics lab. I do not have specific responses for the Deputy on that. If he has an idea to put forward, I will certainly get a response.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: The question does not require an immediate and specific response from the Minister. What I am seeking, I suppose, are sentiments, and the Minister has already expressed sentiments. I was impressed by the young ladies from St. Joseph’s school in Lucan who contacted the Minister about a specific case in their area, which I do not propose to address in the Chamber. They raise the important point that their school does not offer either technical graphics, a subject that probably requires the least infrastructure of the specialised subjects, or construction studies, which requires a certain amount of infrastructure. The Minister referred to physics where there has traditionally been a deficit in girls’ schools. There has been a deficit in biology in some boys’ schools and both these subjects also require facilities.

Will the Minister consider issuing a circular encouraging schools to share facilities? Generally, when an area has a girls’ second level school one will find a boys’ second level school close by. It would be useful for both genders to have access to shared facilities to expand the curriculum. My daughter, who is only ten years old, is good at art and is now looking at house plans. If she attends the local girls’ secondary school, it is highly unlikely she will be able to study technical graphics or building and construction. However, the issue could be addressed at local level. It would require the Minister to engage in persuasion and provide a general sense that this would be a good thing to do, rather than issuing directions.

Deputy Richard Bruton: I would be very happy to consider the Deputy’s proposal. An implementation group on the STEM strategy was established recently and has held a number of meetings. I will ask the group to consider the possibility of having shared facilities where there is a deficit of the nature described by the Deputy and ascertain whether we can provide a scheme of modest support or encouragement to allow that to happen.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: I would be grateful if the Minister would consider the simple suggestion made by the young transition year students to whom I referred. Many transition year students have fantastic ideas such as this one, which would simply require the Minister to issue a circular encouraging schools to share facilities. Such a move would be welcomed by students and probably by schools. My party leader informs me that this type of sharing already occurs in some areas but it needs to become more widespread.

Deputy Richard Bruton: I accept the Deputy’s point. I will ask the implementation group to examine the proposal and revert to him.