Parent survey for school patronage
The Department of Education will today begin surveying parents to establish which patrons they wish to see operating primary schools.
Today’s move is the first step in a process in which the Catholic Church could be divested of the control of schools in 44 areas.
The initiative follows an advisory group report earlier this year recommending the divesting of patronage where there is a stable population and demand for diversity of school types.
The department will initially survey parents of pre-school and primary school children in five areas, Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trim and Whitehall, before next month extending the survey to a further 39 areas around the State.
The survey will be “confined to parents living in the area, parents of pre-school children and parents of children who are in the primary school sector”, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said.
A code of conduct will be in place during the survey period. This has been worked out in consultation with the patron bodies and it will limit excessive spending by any one side. The code is designed to ensure the surveys are conducted in a reasonable manner, without conflict.
Parents' views will be canvassed on single-sex schools, Irish language-medium schools, and other patronage models. Currently, 93 per cent of the State’s 3,200 primary schools fall under Catholic patronage.
The existing patrons within the five pilot areas are An Foras Pátrúnachta and bishops from the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. The bodies which have expressed interest in becoming patrons of divested schools in the five areas are An Foras Pátrúnachta, Educate Together, VECs, the National Learning Network and the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
“What we’re trying to do is take a historical legacy, to respect the voyage of young people through the educational process and not disrupt that voyage and at the same time provide for a diversity of choice for parents," Mr Quinn told RTÉ today.
He said demand for Gaelscoileanna or non-denominational schools could be facilitated in areas of high population density while a Catholic presence was maintained.
The survey is available at education.ie and all eligible parents or guardians are asked to complete it online by November 9th. Parents or guardians are advised to have their PPS number to hand when accessing the online survey as this will be requested for validation purposes.
A free helpline at 1800 303621 is available at the department for anyone who has any difficulties in completing the survey. This will operate from 9.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday. If parents cannot access the online survey, a paper-based version can be requested by ringing the helpline.
Multi-denominational organisation Educate Together today described the survey as “a milestone in providing for diversity in Irish education”. Chief executive Paul Rowe said the move was another big step towards addressing the historical issue of imbalance in diversity of school type in the Irish education system.
“The survey results will play a significant role in progressing the transfer of patronage of a small number of Catholic schools to another patron, such as Educate Together, where there is parental demand to do so,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity this will present to families throughout Ireland, who will have the opportunity to articulate the choice of schools they wish for their communities for the future.”
Educate Together also welcomed the Minister’s call for the surveys to be conducted objectively, calmly and professionally, and the adoption by patron bodies of a code of conduct.
“This process should be about parents, not patron bodies,” said Mr Rowe. “Obviously parents campaigning for Educate Together schools will hope that this process results in an Educate Together school place for their child, but this is about choice for all parents, whatever school type they want.
“Educate Together is committed to working closely and constructively with other patron bodies to find solutions which will suit the needs of local communities.”
Areas where parents will be surveyed on their choice of school patron:
Whitehall (including Kilmore West and Beaumont)