School patronage system has failed


Sir, – There are approximately 20 patrons of primary schools in Ireland, many of which are relatively new. Is it acceptable in the 21st century that the State continues to underwrite a 19th-century patronage model of school management, which results in a system where lines of responsibility and accountability are blurred? All schools should withdraw from this outmoded system of patronage which is not just about religion but also about serving vested interests. We should create “a genuinely republican system” of education where the State no longer abrogates its responsibilities to untested third parties.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) determined in the Louise O’Keefe case (2014) that the State alone is responsible for what happens in schools. Despite this ruling, the State continues to offload its responsibilities to non-elected, self-interest groups (patrons) to control schools. When the Department of Education and Skills wants to introduce new policies, innovations and initiatives into schools it must negotiate with all stakeholders. However, patron bodies have the final say on whether these negotiated changes are introduced or implemented. There are many examples where patron bodies, not exclusively Catholic patrons, have refused access to children, including those with special needs, for various reasons. They have also blocked the introduction to innovative policies which they consider are not aligned with their philosophies.

Divestment, as envisaged, is too one dimensional. It is not real divestment. It is merely replacing one vested interest, euphemistically called a “patron”, with another. The movement toward divestment suggests that patronage as a model for the management of schools has failed, regardless of the identity of the patron body. Through patronage, the State offloads its responsibilities to subsidiary entities, many of which have no real mandate. Not only does the State persist with an outmoded model of subsidiarity but now seems intent on continuing to replace failed patronage models with a plethora of new, as yet untested ones. – Yours, etc,


(Former principal

and school inspector),


Co Meath.