A new Educate Together primary school will not open next week in a former Catholic school building near Castlebar, Co Mayo, as the organisation claims doing so would have meant accepting it as a permanent home.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said there had been an agreement that the old Burren National School premises, located 8km from the town, would be used.
As one of the properties due to change hands as part of the ongoing but controversial process of divesting Catholic schools to alternative patrons to facilitate greater parental choice, Educate Together said the latest development is a severe blow to the divestment process.
The multi-denominational schools body said it deeply regrets that the school would not now open in September as planned. It claimed to have been given an ultimatum by the department earlier this week either to accept as permanent accommodation a building that is inaccessible, not viable in the long term, and does not serve the needs of the communities it is meant to serve, or to postpone opening the school.
“The overwhelming majority of parents have told us that they will not send their children to Castlebar ETNS if it means accepting that the Burren is their ultimate intended school premises,” an Educate Together statement said.
The department rejected Educate Together’s claims it had only accepted the proposed premises as a temporary solution, saying work to bring the school back to use was based on its acceptance by the patron body. Ms O’Sullivan said the group’s decision was disappointing.
“The reaction of Educate Together today is a misplaced effort to apportion blame for the consequences of their own decisions upon the Department of Education,” she said last night.
Ms O’Sullivan urged them to focus on helping to improve school choice for parents, “rather than seeking to distance themselves retrospectively from agreements they have entered into with the department”.
The department said policy on divesting patronage is to use existing infrastructure, because the schools capital programme is focused on providing extra places in areas of population growth rather than in areas like Castlebar where there is no demographic imperative to establish new schools.
Educate Together said the department should ensure proposals for divestment accommodation is not restricted to obsolete, abandoned, or derelict buildings, but should be situated in adequate and easily accessible buildings.
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