Fresh efforts are being made to provide educational choice for more families following the Programme for Government plan for 400 non-religious schools.
The target for non-denominational and multi-denominational schools has been set for 2030, but the Department of Education has already had discussions with school patron bodies to reinvigorate the process begun by previous education minister Ruairi Quinn in 2011.
Only eight Catholic and Church of Ireland schools have so far divested their patronage to multi-denominational control.
However, only two so far have taken over a building previously in use by a religious school, and Mr Quinn’s successor Jan O’Sullivan had called for the process to be re-examined.
In briefing notes on the issue to Education Minister Richard Bruton, department officials say it is clear from recent consultations with patron bodies that they recognise the process needs new impetus.
A clear view emerged that the term “divesting” is often misunderstood and a clearer message needs to be sent to school communities that the process is about patrons working together to make best use of existing school facilities for the diverse needs of all children.
The department’s secretary general Seán Ó Fóghlú, said yesterday that the Programme for Government target is achievable. But he told the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools their engagement is needed to speed up divestment.
“We all need understanding that facilitating a choice of ethical provision across the system strengthens the Catholic ethos as a pluralist option and does not attack it, since plurality means Catholic too.
“And we need to find mechanisms between us that speed up divesting and answer the needs of others within the network,” he said.
On foot of discussions with school patrons, the department also plans to examine how better support for amalgamation of neighbouring schools might provide a greater impetus for reconfiguration that would lead to patron diversity.
It is also planned to examine how demand for wider school choice can be accommodated in areas outside the 44 where parents were surveyed in 2012 and 2013.
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