Catholic patrons welcome schools report

Small demand for change in some areas but majority should not be displaced - Fr Drumm


There is a “measurable small demand” for change in school patronage in certain areas and parents should have a choice, chairman of the Council for Education of the Irish Bishops' Conference has said.

Catholic patrons have welcomed the primary school patronage report which showed demand for change from parents in 23 areas. However, attention must be given to the “large majority” of parents who expressed no interest in change, the council chairman Fr Michael Drumm said.

He was speaking as a survey on parental preferences for primary school patronage was published today by the Department of Education.

Catholic bishops in 23 areas across the State have six months to provide detailed proposals on how they plan on divesting primary schools of their patronage.

Of 23 areas, between 2.2 per cent and 8 per cent of parents with children in school favoured change, the council said. The areas “vary quite a bit”, Fr Drumm said.

The report raised the issue of “displacement” of trying to cater for the views of a minority who want change, Fr Drumm said.

The problem on the ground was that numbers displaced could be greater than numbers catered for, he said.

In Celbridge, Co Kildare, some 100 parents desired a different type of school but the smallest Catholic school was 300 children, he said. It was about getting the “balance right” , he added.

Demand for choice was “lower than anticipated,” Fr Drumm said.

The survey showed a “very strong affirmation” of Catholic schools with no real interest in change from 15 of 38 areas, he said.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said this morning he expected Catholic bishops to cooperate in identifying suitable primary schools for the transfer of patronage.

The Department of Education will send surveys to the patrons seeking an initial response after three months and a final response in six months, he said.

“I would hope and expect during that period a suitable school will be identified by them within the various towns and arrangements will be made for the orderly transfer of the patronage of that school back to the Department of Education,” Mr Quinn said on RTÉ Radio.

Mr Quinn said he expected cooperation from the Catholic Church because patronage had been identified as an issue by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

It was about “parental choice” not a “general election”, Mr Quinn said.

Out of 38 survey areas selected according to specific demographic criteria, 23 have demonstrated demand for “an immediate change in the existing school patronage”, according to a Department of Education statement.

The majority of parents who took part in the survey named Educate Together as their preferred patron, chosen in 20 of 23 areas.

Educate Together was “delighted” and “honoured” that many communities had selected them as a preferred patron,chief executive Paul Rowe said in a statement. The results were “significant” and showed “demand for diversity”, he said.

He praised the “goodwill” shown by the Catholic bishops to the process.

Two areas, Carrigaline in Co Cork and Celbridge Co Kildare favoured VEC community national schools as patron. The association representing vocational colleges has expressed concern about restrictions placed on VECs to promote themselves to parents.

It gave a “qualified welcome” to the report .

Because the VEC’s community national school model was the “newest” available to parents, they needed to be “be allowed to promote and advertise their merits, and parents need to be made aware of the CNS as a possible suitable choice,” Irish Vocational Education Assocation general secretary Michael Moriarty said.

Such advertising was not possible due to promotion restrictions imposed on the VECs by the Department of Education, he said.

“Insisting on a level playing field in these circumstances seems to favour those patronage models which have built a profile over some years,” he said.

Co Cork VEC was “delighted” to be the preferred patron chosen by parents in Carrigaline, chief executive Joan Russell said.

If Co Cork VEC becomes patron of a Carrigaline school it would be its second primary patronage. It is due to open its first primary school in Mallow next year.

“I am aware this is only the first step… and am respectful of existing patrons,” Ms Russell said.

The community national school model was “not well known” in Cork so the growth would allow parents to become familiar with it, she said.

Irish langauge patron An Foras Pátrúnachta was “delighted” to have been preferred by parents in Birr, Co Offaly where there had been “stong demand” in for a Gael Scoil for “quite a while”, general secretary Caoimhín Ó hEaghra said.

However the organisation has raised concern about the use of the survey system to cater for a linguistic minority.

It noted demand for Irish speaking schools in other areas, with between 4 per cent and 31 per cent surveyed in different areas seeking education through Irish.

The organisation is already patrons of 59 primary schools with ttwo more opening next year.

Among the 23 schools identified in the report were Dublin 6, Malahide, Palmerstown, Portmarnock, Rush, Tuam, Westport, Ballina, Clonmel, Passage West, Dungarvan, Fermoy, Kells, Killarney, Leixlip, Loughrea, Cobh, Nenagh, New Ross, Shannon, Celbridge and Carrigaline.

Birr in Co Offaly, showed sufficient demand for a Gaelscoil. Several others specified VEC patronage as their preferred option.

There was insufficient demand in areas such as Wicklow, Skerries, Carrick-on-Suir and Roscommon, among others.

The level of demand required to support change was set at the minimum enrolment required for a four-teacher school, somewhere between 80 and 100 pupils. A total of 10,715 valid survey responses were received.

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