Bruton says failure to integrate in schools can damage social stability

Boards to be told to take over community national school patronage from next week

The Minister for Education has warned of potentially “damaging” consequences for society if “different values and approaches” are not integrated into the school system.

Richard Bruton made the pointed reference to the ongoing and often controversial schools divestment process in his speech to more than 1,100 delegates who attended the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) in Citywest on Friday.

“It has to be valued, in my view, that many parents want to see children brought up and educated within their own faith,” he said.

“But equally we have to recognise that in the primary education system, we have on the one hand 96 per cent of schools which are denominational of one type or another, whereas parents who are getting married, a third of them are getting married entirely outside the realm of organised religion.”



He said it had been seen internationally how damaging the failure to integrate different values and approaches of people from different communities into the education system can be to social stability.

“We need to make sure that we anticipate that, and make sure that we have robust systems of ensuring that every child regardless of their faith or lack of it feels valued within the school community,” he said.

The Minister’s latest contribution comes amid continued criticism over the slow pace of the divestment programme from parents and other commentators as his department works towards its goal of establishing 400 multidenominational schools over the next 15 years.

Mr Bruton used his speech to espouse the merits of community national schools. He said next week he will issue an instruction to education and training boards to take over patronage of the schools from his department so boards of management can be formed.

There are 11 community national primary schools , which allow for a multidenominational approach to faith formation.

Mr Bruton defended the model from claims by other educational bodies that the schools’ curriculum structure would inevitably lead to segregation. He said they allow for the integration of religious beliefs which are not kept “outside the door”.

“The model was to try and accommodate the strands within the community and I think it does it in an interesting way,” he said ahead of a visit to the nearby Citywest and Saggart community national school.

“It offers the potential for a setting that can be uniform for everyone, and that everyone can get a setting that integrates religious belief, not putting them outside the door but bringing them in as something to be valued and recognised but in an inclusive setting,” he said.

‘Toughest job’

IPPN chief executive Sean Cottrell urged the Minister to provide the resources so that teacher-principals, who he described as having "the toughest job in the country", can set aside one day a week for administrative duties.

Mr Cottrell also asked for a reduction in the maximum class size at primary level and for an increase in capitation grants.

“You have the choice to be bold and go out there and meet the call,” Mr Cottrell told the Minister, evincing the achievements of the State’s educational luminaries such as Donogh O’Malley and TK Whitaker.

Mr Bruton responded by saying he could not make any immediate commitments before later telling reporters he will have to "fight" for resources with Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in the coming months.

Mr Cottrell lamented the irregular intervals at which grants are administered to schools, saying the system as it stands makes it difficult for schools to budget, and said the “unfair workload” on principals is affecting their health and welfare.