Educate Together, having considered Minister Bruton’s announcement to speed up the divestment of religious-run schools to other patrons, is today challenging the process as both unfair and unworkable in its current form. Educate Together is proposing an alternative plan that will put parental wishes where they should be: at the centre of the process.
Educate Together challenges the process on the following grounds:
1) The proposed plan is not a fair or transparent one as the state agencies charged with running the selection process – the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) – also have a vested direct interest in the process in that they they are patrons of Community National Schools (CNS) and have clear and stated ambitions to grow that number.
2) Community National Schools are the preferred model of the Catholic Church and the Education Minister. The Church has previously indicated that it favours divesting to this model, as CNS schools will still prepare pupils for sacraments during the school day. Minister Richard Bruton TD also recently endorsed the school model, stating that “the philosophy of the Community National School as a multi-denominational school is based on international best practice in this area”. Educate Together has asked upon which international evidence such a statement can be made.
3) The proposed plan seems to be designed to facilitate the handover of religious-schools to ETB-run schools in return for payment. It proposes a role for existing patrons or the trusts or individuals behind them who are the original landowners in deciding which patron would take over the running of a school. This gives these bodies a disproportionate influence over the process and is a denial of the fundamental democratic rights of parents.
4) The proposed plan does not prioritise the wishes of parents of pre-school children nor parents of children in existing schools in deciding the reassignment of schools. Rather it prioritises the wishes of the Church and the ETBs. The wishes of parents must be central to any approach to addressing the need for change.
5) Educate Together, which has nearly 40 years’ experience in providing equality-based education throughout Ireland and specific expertise in transferring school patronage, was not consulted on the current proposal.
6) Educate Together now has thousands of parents seeking places in its equality-based schools. It currently has no mechanism whereby this demand can be met in established areas of the country. The proposed mechanism does not provide a realistic or credible route for us to satisfy this demand.
An alternative plan
Educate Together has proposed a systemic solution to the needs for diversity in the Irish education system. This involves the State contacting the parents of all 3 year old children and seeking their first second and third preference for primary school. This could be achieved by a confidential online process aligned with the child benefit data. The State would then, for the first time in its history, know the true profile of parental demand for schools of different types and could then allocate places and resources accordingly.
Until such a system is in place, solutions to the long-standing human rights deficits in the structure of the Irish education system will not be achievable.
Educate Together also calls for immediate progress on the remaining 17 areas that have been allocated for new Educate Together schools since 2013 under the previous divestment process.
In the interests of the many thousands of parents campaigning for alternatives to existing school provision, Educate Together challenging the process as outlined by the Minister today and demands a process that is transparent, fair and modelled to provide true equality.