Schools under new patrons 'by September'
PRIMARY SCHOOLS could be under new patronage by next September if sufficient numbers of parents decide they want it, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said.
Parents in five areas where there are a considerable number of primary schools will be given that choice through an online survey.
The parents of both preschool and primary-school children in Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trim and Whitehall are being asked to identify their preferred school patron. They will be asked to complete surveys stating their preferences for the type of local school they would like their children to attend.
The results will be presented to the Catholic Church, which has said that if enough parents in certain areas decide they want a different patron for a school, they will hand over that patronage.
The move is the first step in a process in which schools in 44 areas could be divested of the control of the Catholic Church. The areas in question are those where there is a stable population and a clear demand for a greater diversity of school types.
The other 39 areas will be surveyed from next month.
Mr Quinn said the purpose of the survey of the five areas was to ensure the online process was carried out properly before it was extended to other areas.
He expects the results will be available by the end of the year and the first change of patronage will happen “next September or the following September” if everything goes according to agreed procedures.
Fr Michael Drumm, chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, said they would abide by the survey results, even though they would have preferred a paper rather than an online survey because many parents do not have access to the internet.
“We would of course facilitate change where there is real demand for it,” he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One programme.
He said that if only a small number of parents respond to the survey, the partnership would take that as a signal that the rest were happy with the status quo.
He also stressed the survey could not be regarded as a plebiscite or a vote on future patronage.
The National Parents Council urged parents to participate in the survey so the results could truly reflect the wishes of the local communities.
Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe described the survey as “a milestone in providing for diversity in Irish education”.
He predicted that it would lead to the transfer of patronage of a small number of Catholic schools to Educate Together where there is parental demand to do so. He said parents in the five areas questioned would be “greatly encouraged” their preferred school type may not be far away with the Minister’s announcement.
The bodies which have expressed interest in becoming patrons of divested schools in the five areas are An Foras Pátrúnachta, the patron body for Gaelscoileanna in Ireland; Educate Together; VECs; the National Learning Network; and the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
The survey process will be overseen by the independent New Schools Establishment Group.
The Department of Education will publish detailed reports on the survey outcomes. If the surveys identify demand for alternative patronage in these areas, the department will explore with the existing patrons the transfer of patronage of schools.
The survey is available at education.ie.