Martin welcomes plan to reduce Catholic schools

Sat, Mar 6, 2010, 00:00

THE ARCHBISHOP of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has welcomed an announcement yesterday by Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe that his department “will shortly be providing an initial list of about 10 urban areas that can be used to test the concept of reducing the number of Catholic schools”.

Archbishop Martin also said that solutions would have to be found to respect the rights of teachers “who do not wish to be involved in religious education”.

He welcomed the fact that “the Minister has indicated that there will be consultations with parents, teachers and local communities”.

This, he said, should “also look at the precise demand for Catholic provision for an area”.

He added that “solutions will also have to be found to respect the rights of teachers who wish to remain in a Catholic school and teachers who do not wish to be involved in religious education”.

Fr Michael Drumm, executive chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, also welcomed “the prospect of greater diversity of school provision” as indicated by the Minister yesterday.

However, he queried the Minister’s “mention of an eventual reduction of Catholic provision in demographically stable urban areas to 60 per cent”.

He said that “we have not yet seen any research from the Department of Education and Science to support this figure.”

In his address to the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association in Dublin yesterday, the Minister said that “the issue of the Catholic Church divesting itself of certain schools was originally explicitly raised by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and it has also found expression in the work of the Bishops’ Conference and through its engagement with my department.”

The archbishop’s “public identification of this reality” was “a timely and important contribution not just to the future of Catholic schools but to the future of the primary sector generally,” he said.

“In overall terms, I know it has been acknowledged that the Catholic primary sector, which currently represents over 90 per cent of overall provision, may ultimately fall to between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of overall provision and that this percentage of overall provision will still be enough to allow the church fulfil its expressed commitment to meet the needs of parents who wish their children to have a Catholic education.”

He continued: “I do not believe we need any major discussion forum in relation to this likely change. General demographic change combined with changed public attitudes to religion has already happened.

“It simply has yet to find full expression in terms of an appropriate diversification of school patronage.”

Arising from the meeting between the bishops, the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Department of Education last November, he said that the department undertook to examine some locations to see what options might exist for change of patronage in each.

“My department will shortly be providing an initial list of about 10 urban areas that can be used to test the concept of reducing the number of Catholic schools,” he said.

“In general he said that “where there are four or five schools in an area and all of them are Catholic schools, then even allowing for 80 per cent demand for Catholic provision, it is likely in that area that at least one of the five schools in that parish or part of a diocese will not be needed to meet Catholic needs.

“If in the same locality demand from Catholics fell to 60 per cent , then two of the five schools could be surplus.”

A cornerstone of the process in deciding how Catholic provision is reduced to meet the likely demand for places from those seeking places in a Catholic school “will be consultation with stakeholders,” he said.