Parents to be surveyed on alternatives to faith schools

Parents are about to be surveyed about demand for alternatives to faith-specific primary schools but the local Catholic bishop will have final say on which other patron a building can transfer to.

Education Minister Richard Bruton is today announcing 16 areas — one in each Education and Training Board (ETB) area — where parents of pre-school children are to be first surveyed. Although the ETBs themselves may be vying to become patron if there is sufficient demand for multi-denominational schools, they have been given responsibility for analysing and reporting the survey results to Mr Bruton’s department.

This report will include responses by the prevalent patron or landowner in the area, which will be the local Catholic bishop in most cases. While the parents and staff of local schools will be further consulted on accommodating demand for diversity by transferring patronage of one of the existing schools in an area to a new multi-denominational or non-denominational patron, the final decision rests with the existing patron.

Despite the key decision-making factor being rested with the Catholic hierarchy as the minister seeks to reverse the slow progress of past attempts at divestment, Mr Bruton said identification of a new patron must reflect the wishes of parents and the school community.

“In each case, I believe that the best way to achieve this will be to hold a public meeting where each prospective patron can make their case to the school community, followed by a vote of all parents within that school community, whether they attended the meeting or not,” he said.

A spokesperson for his department said it is clear from initial discussions that all parties, including church authorities, want the process of selecting a new patron to reflect the wishes of the parents and school community.

After the 2012 report of a forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector, former minister Ruairi Quinn had parents surveyed in 38 areas where there was little or no choice other than faith-based, mostly Catholic, schools. However, most of the 23 areas where demand for alternatives was identified have still not seen one of the existing schools transfer to the chosen patron of local families, which in most cases was the Educate Together multi-denominational schools group.

Under plans announced by Mr Bruton early last year, rather than legally transfer a school property to a new patron, a bishop or landowner would lease it to a new patron. Rather than closing one of several local Catholic schools and sending its pupils and staff to another site where two or more schools would amalgamate, efforts will be made to facilitate ‘live transfers’. This would involve staff, pupils and most of the board of an existing school remaining in place, but the patronage moving from one individual or organisation to another.

The areas to be surveyed in the coming weeks on behalf of the local ETBs are in 15 counties, including: two in Dublin; Kinsale, Co Cork; Athenry, Co Galway; Claremorris, Co Mayo; Kenmare/Sneem, Co Kerry; Ennis, Co Clare; Roscrea, Co Tipperary; and Waterford City.

Separately, Mr Bruton is encouraging more school communities to follow the example taken in Co Kerry where locals asked the Catholic bishop to transfer his patronage of Two Mile National School near Killarney to Kerry ETB.

However, this has left the town still waiting for a school for the children whose parents expressed a preference for an Educate Together school in Killarney in the Department of Education’s 2013 survey.



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