The Catholic Schools Partnership has questioned how schools can change patronage when the majority of parents in their areas want their child’s school to remain under the control of the Catholic Church.
Fr Michael Drumm, chair of the organisation which represents bishops and religious orders, was responding to the survey on parental preferences for primary school patronage published by the Department of Education.
That survey looked at 38 areas where the population was stable and the number of schools was adequate but the choice of alternatives as to the provider of education was limited.
The department said the analysis showed there was “sufficient parental demand in 23 out of the 38 areas to support an immediate change in the existing school patronage”.
However, in these 23 areas, those who expressed an opinion in favour of change amounted in each case to between 2.2% and 8% of parents with children in school.
The results followed a pilot scheme in five other areas last year which found there was demand in each for a change in school patronage.
Fr Drumm said his organisation welcomed the report as it gave a lot of data which had not been available before.
“There is a measurable, small demand for change in certain areas, We need to address that size of demand.”
However, he said that while the Catholic Schools Partnership believed parents should have choice where possible, the actual demand for choice was smaller than he had anticipated.
“The problem now that we are going to face on the ground is that with the best will in the world, the most generous spirit, the number you displace may be greater than the number you are trying to cater for.
“Celbridge [in Co Kildare] is a growing town. The parents of about 100 children would desire a different type of school. Anyone with reason would like to respond to that. The problem with Celbridge is that the smallest Catholic school has 300 pupils. How do you balance the right of the 100 pupils who want change?”
Fr Drumm also took issue with the Government’s use of the term “immediate change”.
“I dispute the word ‘immediate’,” he told RTÉ radio. “I fully agree that there is a demand for the 23 areas and we would like to address that over time. Take the reality in Killarney. It’s the parents of 72 pupils out of 2,500. The 12 schools there are all Catholic. Anyone would like that there be some choice provided over time but we do have to have this conversation locally.”
However, he said that while it would be difficult to implement the process in some areas, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s hope to have schools transferred or in the process of transferring by Sept 2014 was “a perfectly legitimate aim”.
Educate Together has been chosen as patron in 20 of the 23 areas and two towns will see community national schools established.
While Educate Together has said it is delighted by its allocation, the Irish Vocational Education Association said that as community national schools were the newest school model available to parents, the patrons of them needed to be allowed to promote and advertise their merits. “This is not possible with the advertising and promotion restrictions imposed on VECs by the Department of Education and Skills,” it said.
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