Parental demand at heart of school patronage, says Quinn


PATRONS OF new schools will be obliged to show there is parental demand for their kind of educational approach, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn announced yesterday.

He said the new arrangements mean that decisions over school patronage will be more transparent and create more choice for parents.

“Parental preferences should be at the heart of considerations about the type of school to be recognised,” Mr Quinn said.

A total of 40 new schools are planned to come on stream over the coming six years to help cater to a growing school-going population.

At present almost 90 per cent of primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church. It is also involved in the patronage of about 400 of the 700 second-level schools.

When asked if he expected that any of the new schools would be run by the Catholic Church, Mr Quinn said the aim of the move was to create more choice.

“This is new ground for all of us. The programme for government is very clear that we should where possible – and within the constraints of resources – provide a plurality of choice for parents,” he said.

“If there are existing secondary schools of a particular patronage type – whether VEC or Catholic Church – the logic is that we would extend the patronage choice.”

New patrons will be required to satisfy a number of requirements. These include a willingness to accept special education facilities and to enrol children in the immediate area.

Some of the criteria in deciding patronage will include the potential for future growth, the extent of diversity of patronage in the area and the proximity of schools of similar ethos to those proposed by applicant patrons.

At primary level, the new schools must have the capacity to accept at least one full class group of pupils at junior infant level, and to increase capacity up to three full streams.

At secondary level, new schools will need to have the capacity to cater for between 800 and 1,000 pupils. A lower threshold of 400 will apply to gaelcholáistí in certain circumstances.

Patron bodies will shortly be asked to make applications to the Department of Education for consideration.

On foot of this, department officials will draft a report based on these applications to be considered by a newly formed body to be known as the New Schools Establishment Group.

It will be chaired by Dr Séamus McGuinness, a retired senior lecturer at Trinity College Dublin’s education department.

Other members of the group will include Sylda Langford, former director of the Office for the Minister for Children, and Prof Seán Ó Riain of the sociology department in NUI Maynooth.

This group will submit a report to the Minister who will make a final decision.

Patrons of other schools at primary and secondary level include Educate Together, Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, the Irish Vocational Education Association, the Church of Ireland and the Islamic Foundation of Ireland.

Until now, the rules over the patronage of schools were less defined. They were often based on patrons approaching the department, especially at primary level, rather than the department inviting applications for patronage.