Forum to examine school patronage

Mon, Mar 28, 2011, 01:00

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has set up an expert group to decide how up to half of all primary schools will be moved away from Catholic Church patronage.

The forum will be chaired by Prof John Coolahan, professor emeritus at NUI Maynooth, and will meet for the first time in May.

Dr Coolahan will be assisted by Fionnuala Kilfeather, former chief executive of the National Parents' Council, and Dr Caroline Hussey, former registrar and deputy president at UCD.

They will advise the Minister on how best it can be ensured that the education system provides a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools catering for all religions and none and the practicalities of how transferof patronage should operate for individual primary schools in communities where it is appropriate and necessary.

The current economic climate and the willingness of the Catholic Church to consider divesting patronage will be taken into account.

Representatives from the various patronage bodies as well as the Irish Primary Principals' Network, the INTO and other interested stakeholders including parents, will all participate in the forum. It will also take submissions from the public.

Mr Quinn said the forum will report by the end of October so the findings can be implemented from January 1st next.

The Minister said he wanted to see at least half the schools currently under Church patronage move to an alternative guardianship.

"This forum is really to discuss the mechanisms and modality whereby a school under patronage of one body – let’s say the Catholic Church - would come to an orderly decision to transfer that patronage to another patron body in a manner that does not damage the educational experience of the children or indeed the operational or working arrangements of the teachers and parents involved,” he told RTÉ radio today.

The debate on school patronage was started three years ago when Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin acknowledged the Church was overrepresented in Irish education.

The Church controls about 90 per cent of the State’s 3,200 primary schools.

Killian Forde of The Integration Centre, a non-governmental organisation committed to the integration and inclusion of people from immigrant backgrounds in Ireland, welcomed the Minister’s announcement saying the Catholic Church’s "ongoing near monopoly on school patronage was not sustainable.”

“The successful integration of second generation immigrants will require buy-in and a sense of ownership of the local education management structure from the whole community. As many of our new citizens are non–catholic it makes sense to examine the structures of patronage in the state,” he said.