Educate Together on the Department’s Statement of Strategy: a plan of action diversity of school type is needed

Educate Together welcomes the publication today of the Department of Education’s Statement of Strategy 2021-2023.

Educate Together notes the central emphasis given in the Strategy Statement to equity, inclusion and supports for students at risk of educational disadvantage. These objectives broadly in line with the work of Ireland’s equality-based school network.

In particular Educate Together notes that the Department has again committed to creating greater choice in the education system for families and looks forward to working with the Department and other partners to achieve this objective. (Goal 2, Action 8: Increase the diversity of school type in order to offer parents and students more choice through the process to reconfigure schools to increase diversity and strengthen the relationship between schools and their local communities.)

Educate Together schools are central to the communities where they are established and once open they tend to quickly become oversubscribed. However, in many communities around Ireland, parents still have no choice but to send their children to religious–ethos primary schools. There are still five whole counties in Ireland that have no equality-based or multi-denominational primary school options. The pace of change in this area has been far too slow to date.

Speaking today, Educate Together CEO Emer Nowlan said:

“The launch of this strategy today provides a new opportunity to stimulate long-overdue change. There has been broad agreement for some time that we need to re-balance our education system to provide choice for families. What is needed now is a clear plan of action to make real change happen.”

To increase the diversity of school type in Ireland on a significant scale, Educate Together has made a number of recommendations:

• Establish a Citizens Assembly to break the log-jam preventing schools from being opened or transferred in areas where the population is not growing.
• Publish a clear government strategy to increase equality-based provision, in order to achieve the Government’s own target of at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030.
• Work with communities to ensure the provision of clear, non-partisan information on school transfers, and to ensure informed and meaningful consultation at local level.
• Expand and prioritise the transfer of viable schools to equality-based, multi-denominational and non-denominational school patrons in line with proven parental demand.

A clear government strategy to increase equality-based provision is long overdue. The publication of today’s Statement of Strategy 2021-2023 is a step in the right direction but concrete and deliverable actions are needed.