Educate Together Calls for Immediate Action to Establish Equality-Based Schools Around Ireland

Educate Together notes with interest Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s speech at the ETBI Annual Conference today. In particular, Educate Together welcomes the Minister’s commitment to ‘reinvigorating’ the divestment process and her commitment to meeting with Catholic Bishops in the coming weeks with a view to making progress.

Minister O’Sullivan today also made a commitment to meeting with the other patrons, including representatives of the ETB sector. Educate Together looks forward to these meetings and would like to point out that parents up and down the country, in surveys carried out by the Minister’s own department, have already chosen Educate Together as the school model they want for their children.

On publishing the results of parental preference surveys in 2012, the Department of Education stated: the surveys show that in the five areas Educate Together has emerged as the first choice of alternative patron. Another departmental statement in 2013 stated: “Parents expressed a preference for an Educate Together patron in 20 of the areas and the other two towns will see Community National Schools established, run by the local VEC.

These parents, in 25 areas around Ireland, specifically chose an equality-based Educate Together school, and their views should be respected.

It should be noted that three years after the school patronage surveys were taken, families in 19 areas are still waiting for the Educate Together schools they opted for. These families were told by the Irish Government that they would see equality-based schools established for their children, run by Educate Together.

If the same parental preference surveys were taken again this year, it is Educate Together’s assessment that the numbers of families seeking equality-based schools would be significantly higher. What is particularly interesting about this surge in demand is that it is not happening as a result of a massive marketing campaign. Educate Together is a sparsely funded educational charity with very tight budget lines. The growth of demand is being fuelled by the reputation of Educate Together schools. 

Key distinctions: Community National Schools and Educate Together

The Educate Together model of education cannot be simply described as ‘multi-denominational’. For more than thirty years, Educate Together has offered an education that is equality-based, welcoming to children of all religious, social and cultural backgrounds and based on human rights. Educate Together schools are safe spaces where no child is made to feel ‘other’ or ‘different’ and which avoid the separation of young children according to religion.

Educate Together schools are set up and developed by groups of parents who wish to send their children to a school that is intentionally and purposefully learner-centred, co-educational and democratically run. They promote the fullest participation by parents, students and teachers in decision-making processes. This model of education is what parents in 25 areas expected when they opted for Educate Together to become patron of their local primary schools.

In Educate Together schools, faith formation takes place outside of school hours. This is integral to Educate Together’s ethos and model, as it respects the human and intellectual rights of children, staff and parents. Community National Schools provide faith formation within school hours which requires the registration, labelling and separation of children according to the religious identity of their parents. The CNS model has been configured to provide faith-formation facilities on the same basic structure as 90% of all existing primary schools in the State.

Educate Together agrees wholeheartedly with the Minister for Education – the divestment process must be invigorated – for the parents all over Ireland who stated three years ago that they wanted an equality-based Educate Together school for their children.