Education system is no ‘fluke’

 

Sir, – Using the word “fluke” to describe the success of the Irish education system is belittling, factually incorrect and fails to acknowledge the role played by countless individuals down through the years who have contributed to the creation of aspects of the system (Fintan O’Toole, “Ireland’s brilliant education system is a complete fluke”, Opinion & Analysis, Weekend Review, April 24th).

These volunteers have given of their time, money and energy to ensure the provision of education in Ireland. Sites for schools have been provided free of charge from parish and diocesan resources, as well as from the resources of religious congregations. The provision of schools, often serving rural communities, gave and continue to give young people educational opportunity and a chance to contribute to the common good.

Many of the schools, particularly at post-primary level, were established when either the State was unwilling to provide for them or had not got the financial resources to do so. Indeed, even today school sites continue to be provided free of charge to the State.

Education Trust companies at post-primary level have inherited the responsibility of ensuring the generosity of many of the founders of these schools continues into the future. Ireland has also benefited from, and continues to benefit from, very successful school governance structures provided free of charge.

Members of boards of management sit, on a voluntary basis, on management boards carrying out statutory duties. Many of these boards have inherited from their predecessors an obligation to fund raise in order to ensure the schools can operate on a day-to-day basis.

Such voluntary work, commitment and dedication are by no means a fluke!

Rather it is representative of communities who value educational opportunity and the pivotal role the school plays within the communities they serve. Inspection reports of the Department of Education published online consistently acknowledge the crucial role played by voluntary boards of management in ensuring the quality of teaching and learning remains consistent and of a very high standard.

The vast expansion of the post-primary education system in the late 1960s and 1970s referenced in the article in large part can be attributed to the role played by the voluntary secondary school sector; however, the author fails to acknowledge this historical fact. The expansion was by no means a fluke!

The rushed implementation of the political decision to provide so-called free education at post-primary level challenged voluntary secondary schools and continues to challenge the sector to this very day.

The flawed financial model implemented at the time obtained the free use of privately owned facilities and lands coupled with a capitation model of funding that did not meet the true costs associated with running post-primary schools.

To this day, parents and local communities continue to make up the financial shortfall required to maintain voluntary secondary schools. The narrative exists that the State fully funds voluntary secondary schools. In the case of the 107 CEIST (Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust) voluntary secondary schools, in the order of 37 per cent of the money required to fund the schools on a day-to-day basis is raised locally – in truth the State part funds voluntary secondary schools.

The success of the sector is in no way a fluke but rather is a successful partnership of State, patrons, parents, students and local communities. It is to be commended and cherished! – Yours, etc,

BERNARD KEELEY,

Chairman,

Board of Directors.

CEIST Education Office,

Kill,

Co Kildare.