Educate Together welcomes the commitment in the programme for government to addressing the need for ‘multi- and non-denominational’ education. This need is growing more urgent as more and more parents express their preference for Educate Together schools.
What do parents want?
In surveys conducted in 2012/2013, parents around the country expressed an overwhelming preference for the Educate Together equality-based school model. In 25 out of the 28 areas where the need for change was established, parents expressed a clear preference for Educate Together schools. Four years later there are 19 distinct areas around Ireland where families are still waiting for Educate Together national schools.
In contrast, the Community National School model – which was introduced by Minister Hanafin in 2007 – has not proved popular with parents, as evidenced in the same Department surveys and recent patronage selection processes. In the three areas where new primary schools were announced for 2016, only 70 children were registered for Community National Schools, compared to 1,173 children for Educate Together schools.
The wishes of parents, as expressed in these Department processes, should be central to any new approach to addressing the need for change, and this means expanding the network of Educate Together schools across the country as a matter of urgency.
How can this be achieved?
Educate Together has expressed its willingness to explore different avenues to providing for the demand that exists for change in the primary education system.
Paul Rowe, CEO: ‘As the patron that has opened more new schools than any other body in the past 10 years in Ireland, and the preferred model of thousands of parents across Ireland, we look forward to meeting the Minister. Educate Together has a track record of achieving change and innovation, and we are keen to start working with the Minister and his officials to accelerate the current process.
In the context of exploring different approaches, Educate Together has demonstrated its capacity to work with local authorities, ETBs and other partners to provide choice for parents at primary and second-level.
Paul Rowe again: We are open to exploring different options to address the demand for Educate Together schools. A basic requirement of any policy change process is that appropriate funding be put in place, and a lack of funding is a key reason that this process has been slow to date. We also need to be innovative in our use of existing state resources. Recent legislation makes specific provision for ETBs to expand the services they provides to schools, and it may be that these state authorities can play a role in overcoming some of the barriers to progress, such as those which have emerged in relation to buildings. We look forward to meeting the Minister and his officials so that we can work together to meet the evidenced demand.