Church to identify schools it can divest

 

The process of handing over Catholic-run schools to other patron bodies could begin by September 2014.

In a landmark move, the Catholic Church will be asked to identify schools which could be divested in five areas where parents say in a public survey they want a wider choice of school patron.

The multidenominational group Educate Together is poised to take over the management of schools in these five areas after it emerged as the preferred alternative patron in the survey.

The surveys were conducted on a pilot basis in five areas: Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trim and Whitehall in Dublin.

Parents in 39 other areas – also identified as those where the Catholic Church is over-represented – will be surveyed next month.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn insists the survey results show strong parental demand for a greater choice of patron. However, the very low turnout in some areas – less than 40 per cent – will be seized on by critics as evidence that the public is not greatly exercised about changes to school patronage.

The department says there was “an encouraging level of interest from parents” in the online surveys. These were governed by a code of conduct which limited spending and publicity by all patrons. This may be a factor in explaining the relatively low turnout.

In Whitehall, for example, less than 1,000 of close to 2,500 parents of school-going children participated. Overall, 1,788 valid survey responses were received, representing 3,459 children in the five areas.

Mr Quinn will now ask the Catholic bishop in each of the five pilot areas “to consider the reconfiguration options open to him which would allow sufficient school accommodation to be made available to facilitate this demand for greater choice”.

The Minister is requesting each of the patrons to consult their local school communities. The department is requesting an interim response in three months and a final response in six months.

Last night the INTO said any consultation planned during the coming months must include the teaching staff.

Paul Rowe of Educate Together said the survey confirmed that parents would like a choice of school type, and that many had a preference for Educate Together schools.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of Labour said he was delighted to see the public demand for change. This survey was never an attempt to criticise local schools but an attempt by this Government to engage with parents at a local level.

School patronage What parents want

Of those parents seeking a wider choice of patron, Educate Together was the first preference of 56 per cent to 76 per cent of parents

An Forás Patrúnachta was first choice for between 6 per cent and 26 per cent of parents, and the VECs first choice for 10 per cent to 18 per cent

The number of parents who supported a wider choice of patron ranged from 37 per cent to 50 per cent

Those who did not want to see more choice ranged from 35 per cent to 44 per cent

Based on surveys in five pilot areas: Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trim and Whitehall