Process of school divestment begins with four schools next September

Object is to provide parents with a choice of school patronage

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn said the new schools will open in Ballysokerry, Ballina, Co Mayo; Tramore, Co Waterford; Trim, Co Meath; and Malahide, Co Dublin.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn said the new schools will open in Ballysokerry, Ballina, Co Mayo; Tramore, Co Waterford; Trim, Co Meath; and Malahide, Co Dublin.

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 15:53

The slow process of providing choice in the patronage in some of Ireland’s 3,200 primary schools has nudged forward with the announcement that four schools will open next September under the patronage of Educate Together.

These are the first schools to have new patrons as a result of the Government’s school divestment process.

The change arises in areas where a survey has shown that parents wanted a choice. Three of the new schools will open in temporary accommodation in Tramore, Co Waterford, Trim, Co Meath, and Malahide, Co Dublin, said Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn.

A fourth will open at Newtownwhite NS, Ballysokerry, Ballina, Co Mayo where parents and existing school patrons the Church of Ireland are in discussions to shift patronage to Educate Together.

The minister also announced that Educate Together would move from temporary accommodation into the former Scoil San Séamus school building in Basin Lane, Dublin. The buildings became available after it and another local school merged.

The Government was committed to providing parents with a choice of patronage, Mr Quinn said. The process of divestment of primary schools was recommended by a 2012 report by the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector. It also forms part of the Programme for Government agreed by Fine Gael and Labour, he said. “This isn’t a personal crusade of Ruairí Quinn.”

He welcomed the progress made in offering alternative patronage. It had only advanced slowly however because of the need for widespread agreement on where a change in patronage is sought and whether a means to achieve this becomes available.

Parents were surveyed in 43 towns in early 2013 and were asked whether they wanted a change of patronage for their local primary schools. The survey showed there was sufficient parental demand to support changes in 28 of these areas.

Even where an interest in change has been expressed, agreement was still required from parents, existing patrons and replacement patrons before a change could be advanced. “Many people in those areas are happy with the school their children are attending, but clearly some parents want a choice of ethos,” the Minister said. “I think it was always going to be difficult. None of us have ever been here before, this is new territory.”

Ireland had “a massive demographic challenge”, with a rapidly rising school population, Mr Quinn said. The department had a building programme for areas where population was rising, but the Catholic Church had not asked for patronage for any of the new schools, Mr Quinn said.

The goal was to “create diversity of choice” without the need to build new schools, said Kevin McCarthy, assistant secretary in the Department of Education and Skills. New schools will be built however in areas where there is a need due to population growth.

Educate Together welcomed the Minister’s announcement, saying it represented a “first step” in addressing the imbalance of patronage given 95 per cent of schools are under either Catholic Church or Church of Ireland management.

“This is a really positive development. This is not just for the parents seeking Educate Together schools in these areas,” said Paul Rowe, chief executive officer of Educate Together.