Parents at Greystones school back no confidence vote in board of management

Church of Ireland school at centre of admissions row

At an extraordinary general meeting of the St Patrick’s National School  parent-teacher association on Wednesday night, parents held a series of confidence votes relating to the controversy. Photograph: iStock

At an extraordinary general meeting of the St Patrick’s National School parent-teacher association on Wednesday night, parents held a series of confidence votes relating to the controversy. Photograph: iStock

 

Parents at a Church of Ireland primary school at the centre of a row over its admissions policy have overwhelmingly backed a no confidence vote in its board of management.

The move follows the resignation of the principal of St Patrick’s National School in Greystones, Co Wicklow, over the summer in protest over moves to prioritise the enrolment of children who regularly attend church services.

At an extraordinary general meeting of the school’s parent-teacher association on Wednesday night attended by about 120 parents,  a series of confidence votes were held relating to the controversy.

A confidence vote in both the board of management and the chair of the board were overwhelmingly defeated, with about 80 per cent opposing both motions.

By contrast, a confidence vote in the principal was carried by 95 per cent of parents.

The parent-teacher association will now contact both the patron body – the united diocese of Dublin & Glendalough – and the Minister for Education on foot of the votes.

A number of parents say they want either mediation in the row or a dissolution of the board.

The parents’ vote, however, carries no legal weight as a board of management may only be dissolved by the Minister for Education at the request of the patron body.

A spokeswoman for school’s patron, the united diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, did not comment when contacted by The Irish Times. The chair of the school board of management, Canon David Mungavin, also declined to comment.

Controversy erupted during the summer when principal Eileen Jackson wrote to parents to state that she was resigning on foot of the school’s “new direction” in making admission to State-funded education a “collateral benefit of parochial engagement”.

Priority admissions

These priority admissions require the signature of the rector, who signs off whether the child is an active member of the parish.

Board of management sources, however, say there is “no change in direction” and its policy has been in place for several years.

Another source of controversy at the school has involved a decision by the board of management to turn down an extra teacher the school was entitled to for the coming academic year.

Some parents claim the move was to prevent school numbers growing and potentially diluting its Church of Ireland ethos.

However, sources on board of management say the move was due to concerns around whether the school had the space to cope with extra pupil numbers.

Many parents said Wednesday night’s vote sent a “strong message” to the board and patron.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said one parent, who declined to be named. “Parents and teachers are not happy at the direction our school is going in. They have lost our trust and confidence.”

Another commented: “Teachers were in tears at the meeting. They say they been told that they can’t comment on any of this. They are frustrated and fear for the way the school is going.”

A third parent said  the principal - who  spoke at the meeting - received a standing ovation.

However, one parent, who supports the board, said: “It was like a lynch mob meeting. It’s all orchestrated. I was being shouted at being told to look at people when I was talking to them. It was shocking.”

Under new school admission laws, minority faith schools, such as the Church of Ireland, will continue to be permitted to give priority enrolment to children on the basis of religion under new admission laws.

However, a department spokesman said schools will not be permitted to rank these students “on the basis of the extent to which the child or his or her family are involved in local religious activities”.

The measures are contained in the School Admissions Act, which was signed into law over the summer. It is due to come into force for children starting school in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Local Social Democrats councillor Jennifer Whitmore has called for the issues at the centre of the St Patrick's dispute to be addressed urgently.

"Over the past number of weeks, many parents have been in contact with me to express their concerns regarding developments," she said.

"It's now important that the patron engages with parents and school management to address these concerns quickly."