Parents to choose patrons of new schools through online system

Parents in dozens of areas where new schools will open in the next four years will have to choose patrons online to run them because of past problems with the selection process.

Parents to choose patrons of new schools through online system

The details are yet to be finalised but the plan is being announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton today as he publishes the list of the areas involved.

They have been identified as those where population growth and birth rates are high enough to justify the establishment of new schools.

The vast majority of the 26 primary and 16 second-level schools to open between 2019 and 2022, catering for more than 20,000 children, will be in the greater Dublin area.

They include three primary schools and one second-level school in the Sallynoggin-Killiney area of south Dublin alone, reflecting trends in new housing and projected enrolment requirements beyond the capacity of existing schools.

Outside of Dublin, there will be four new schools in counties Cork, in Ballincollig, Carrigaline, Glasheen/Pouladuff, and Gurranabraher, four each in Kildare and Wicklow, and others serving communities in Galway, Kilkenny, Louth and Meath.

In recent years, most new primary schools have given rise to competition to operate them from multi-denominational schools group Educate Together and from local education and training boards offering to open a multi-denominational community national school.

The main difference between them is that Educate Together does not provide for faith-specific faith formation or preparation for sacraments or other ceremonies during school time, whereas it is usually facilitated during the school day by community national schools — although the latter’s policies in this regard may change.

While it will continue to leave it open to parents in each area to choose the type of school they prefer and which patron, the Department of Education is amending the method by which this will take place.

This follows concerns raised repeatedly in recent years by the New Schools Establishment Group (NSEG), an independent body which recommends to the minister which patron should have control of new schools being opened.

In its most recent report on the selection exercise last year, the NSEG flagged continuing problems with the degree to which patrons applying in different areas were including children who were ineligible for placement on their lists showing support for their particular ethos or language model.

Of nearly 3,000 children whose parents the prospective patrons told the department picked them as their preference to control a new school in four areas, more than 430 had to be ruled out.

The biggest problems was that the families lived outside the catchment area of a proposed new school.

The parental preferences have traditionally been gathered via local canvassing on behalf of patrons, such as a local bishop or education and training board, multi-denominational schools group Educate Together or Irish-language patron An Foras Pátrúnachta.

However, their submissions with details of interested parents have to be vetted by department officials before assessment by the NSEG.

Last year’s decision on which patrons to appoint had to be delayed by more than two months because of the time involved in verifying parental interest and establishing which were invalid.

The data published with the NSEG reports when the minister announced the new patrons last May did not identify the problem as being particular to any one patron or type of patron.

Richard Bruton
Richard Bruton

Mr Bruton said the patronage process for the eight primary schools and one second-level school which will open next year would take place later this year, through a new online patronage process system that is being developed.

“The new online system is designed both to give parents better, more comparable information on the prospective patron bodies in order to make more informed decisions, but also to address the difficulties outlined by the NSEG,” a Department of Education spokesperson told the Irish Examiner.

It is also intended to make it easier and more efficient for parents to register their preferred patron and whether they want a school where children are taught through English or Irish.

The minister also promises greater ease of access to information about his department’s school building programme through updates to his website that he said will ensure the status of existing major projects is set out in a more user-friendly format.

Mr Bruton said that the requirement for new schools will be kept under review, with particular regard to the impact of increased rollout of housing to meet balanced regional development.

“Since 2011, we have created 122,000 new and replacement school places,” he said. “We are now creating more school places than at any other period in the history of the State.”

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