A Kerry school has enrolled just nine pupils after a patronage transfer from the Catholic bishop to the local education and training board.
The viability of Two Mile School outside Killarney was at risk and it did not re-open at all during the last school year. No parents sent their children back to the school in September 2016, and numbers had dropped to just 17 in the previous school year.
Education Minister Richard Bruton said its redesignation as a multi-denominational community national school was the first example of a new way of increasing diversity in primary school provision.
Approving the transfer of patronage to Kerry Education and Training Board, he said it signalled the way forward for ways of increasing choice in communities and towns where denominational primary schools dominate.
“Local parents clearly intended that they would again enrol their children in the school once the school reopens,” Mr Bruton’s department told the Irish Examiner in June.
But the Irish Examiner has learned barely half the numbers enrolled before the bishop decided to close the school are now being taught there.
Kerry ETB appointed a principal at the start of August and there are currently only nine pupils enrolled for this school year.
As the school had not formally closed down, it was permitted to register children from junior infants up to sixth class, and there are now children in each grade except second-class being taught.
A new start-up school, on the other hand, can only enrol children in junior infants and expand as infant enrolments are added each year.
Ann O’Dwyer, Kerry ETBs’ schools director, said it was a major achievement to have opened in just six weeks. Although the announcement of the transfer was made by Mr Bruton on June 12, she said it was July before his department gave the formal go-ahead to appoint a principal and begin taking enrolments.
“There’s now diversity in Killarney. We have started with what we consider to be great numbers,” she said.
“And we’re confident of continuing growth, based on interest for next year and in future years, and on support in the community and, indeed, from Killarney town,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
She said the ETB had no approaches from any groups concerned about the minister’s decision to approve it as patron.
The decision to approve a direct transfer of patronage was criticised in June by multi-denominational schools group Educate Together. It was the first choice of parents in the wider Killarney area who expressed a desire for wider choice of primary schools in a local survey for the Department of Education in 2013.
However, the department said that the school was not available to be divested as the transfer happened in line with a different process that gives control to an existing religious patron over school properties and ultimate say on which patron takes over a school if there is demand for more choice.
The transfer was described by Mr Bruton and the Catholic Diocese of Kerry as being in line with the choice of the local community. But Educate Together or Irish-language schools patron An Foras Pátrúnachta were not invited to offer themselves as patron.
The community national school model, which permits the preparation of children for religious rites of passage such as First Communion and Confirmation during school time, is the preferred model of the Catholic bishops. They do not support transfers to Educate Together, most of whose schools allow sacramental and other preparations on school property only outside of formal class times.
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