Group invites Catholic primary schools to consider changes in patronage

CATHOLIC primary schools are to be asked to consider if they might hand control to another patron — though both the timeframe and the number of schools which might change hands remain unclear.

The Catholic Schools Partnership (CSP) is asking all 2,800-plus primary schools under the patronage of the local Catholic bishop to reflect on their identity and priorities with parents, pupils, staff, management and the local community.

The CSP, set up by the Catholic bishops and religious orders in 2009, wants the exercise carried out in the current school year “to prepare the way for a change in patronage where that would be appropriate”.

Most schools opened in the last decade are non-denominational or multi-denominational, but 90% of the 3,300 primary schools remain under Catholic patronage.

The Department of Education identified 43 areas where more diverse provision may be needed last year.

But Fr Michael Drumm, CSP chairman, said the strongest theme to emerge from extensive consultations with Catholic school communities is that people want to be part of a conversation, rather than have a national plan foisted on them from above.

“If this is to make headway, and we would welcome some level of change in patronage, it will only do so if local school communities are part of the process,” he said.

“What we hope and would expect to emerge is that a significant number of schools will confirm and strengthen their Catholic identity in this process of self evaluation.

“But others might come to the view that a change of patronage may be welcome and they may want to reflect on that.”

A key deliberation of the advisory group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, set up by Education Minister Ruairí Quinn, is how decisions might be reached on whether a Catholic school is to divest patronage.

A preliminary report from the group chaired by Professor John Coolahan is expected shortly.

“What we hope emerges is a roadmap that facilitates all of us looking to the future, we don’t have any guidelines,” said Fr Drumm.

“People keep talking about votes or surveys of local opinion but division in local communities has to be avoided.”

Based on its research, the CSP suggests protocol be agreed on the timing of religious education class to cater for parents who do not wish their child to receive religious formation.

But while some teachers and others feel that parents have abdicated their responsibilities and too much is left to schools, Fr Drumm said there was no support for moving the preparation for sacraments entirely outside of school hours.



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