Parents may not get to choose patron of ‘reconfigured’ Catholic schools

Educate Together fears being excluded from plan to create multi-denominational schools

School patrons such as Educate Together fear they will be excluded from a new pilot programme aimed at transferring the patronage of Catholic schools to a multi-denominational patronage.

Under a plan formally announced on Friday, Catholic bishops will “co-operate fully” with the Department of Education in seeking to facilitate a more diverse school patronage in eight pilot areas where there are no multi-denominational primary schools.

The pilot areas are Arklow, Athlone, Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick and Youghal.

Catholic schools account for 89 per cent of primary schools, while about 5 per cent have a multi-denominational ethos.

The Government has committed to improving parental choice by meeting a target of delivering 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030.

The Programme for Government also pledges to “expand and prioritise the transfer of viable schools to Community National Schools”, which are run by State-owned Education and Training Boards.

However, Educate Together said the plan does not provide any explicit guarantee for parents to have their voice heard on the type of school that will result from any transfers.

“The organisation believes that parents in the local community should have a say, including parents of school-going children and parents of pre-school children,” Educate Together said in a statement,.

"From the limited information made available to date, it seems that school communities will only be given information about the Community National School model, which, in the interests of transparency, choice and fairness, is concerning."

It said it had been excluded from the reconfiguration of a Catholic school in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, recently despite surveys indicating it was the patron of choice among parents.

An Foras Pátrúnachta, the largest patron of Irish-medium schools, also expressed concern that not giving parents a chance to voice their desire for an all-Irish school would be a “missed opportunity”.

“There is an onus to ensure transparency and the provision of information on every divestment choice in the upcoming processes,” said Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of An Foras Pátrúnachta.

Patronage options

“The facilitation of parental choice should not be overlooked in this process. Limiting information to school communities in relation to patronage options risks the process becoming a missed opportunity for providing real choice.”

He also said Irish-medium schools need an Irish-medium patron with the resources and expertise to support these schools if they are to flourish.

However, the national representative body Education and Training Boards said it noted that the Programme for Government prioritises the transfer of viable schools to its Community National School model

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) general secretary Paddy Lavelle said it looked forward to supporting school communities throughout the process of transferring from a religious patron to the Community National School model.

He said the model is based on a multi-denominational ethos rather than a religious one.

This meant all children were treated equally throughout the school day, regardless of any aspect of their identity.

Instead of a faith formation programme which is taught in religious schools, he said children follow a multi-belief and values education curriculum.

Its schools also celebrate events that are important to the school community such as Christmas, Eid and Diwali throughout the school year.

“Although it may seem like a daunting task for a school community at first, we have already supported many schools through this process. This has ensured the successful transfer of these schools to the Community National School model,” he said.

There are currently 27 Community National Schools across the country with a 28th due to open in Nenagh in September 2022.