A core legal requirement for Educate Together is to promote a future where multi-denominational education will be as freely available to parents as any other educational option that they may choose (Educate Together Charter). The context of a rapidly diversifying society is driving demand for the sector to assist groups who wish to open new Educate Together schools.
Initial results from the 2005 Annual Survey of Educate Together Schools show impressive evidence of sustained and dramatic growth. This growth underlines the continued popularity of this model of education amongst Irish parents and the need for a radical change in the way that the State funds the movement.
The rate of growth is substantially accelerating and is expected to continue to do so for a considerable number of years. The increase in pupils is 330 more than the 2004 increase. It has broken the 1,000 new pupils per year level for the first time. The growth profile is underlined by a stark increase in the ratio of Junior Infants to Sixth Class. This has risen above 2:1 for the first time. This means that the planned capacity of existing Educate Together schools has risen above 10,000 also for the first time.
- The Educate Together sector increased its capacity by 1,031 pupils, 52 classes, 110 classroom staff and 4 schools in September 2005.
- The sector now accommodates 6,631 children, 281 mainstream teachers, 234 additional classroom staff and 39 schools.
This growth is taking place despite the fact that welcome improvements in the pupil teacher ratio are reducing the capacity of our established schools and underlines the fact that the majority of Educate Together schools are still building up to their full capacity. The figures also highlight the continuing trend of schools in areas of rapid housing development moving towards a 16 classroom model and the substantial increase in special needs provision. This is also illustrated by the increase in the provision of Assisted Learning Units or Classes in Educate Together schools as the necessary resources required to implement these departments are provided by the State.
In contrast to these figures of dramatic growth, there has been a dramatic slow-down in the delivery of permanent accommodation for Educate Together Schools. Despite the opening of 4 new schools, not a single Educate Together school has occupied a permanent building this year and only one school is currently involved in a building project with a completion date for September 2006.
64% of the schools in the sector are in temporary accommodation, mainly prefabs. The number of Educate Together schools waiting for permanent accommodation is now at a record 24 schools out of 39 schools in total. Of the 21 new Educate Together schools opened since 2000, only one is in permanent accommodation.
These figures demand serious attention by all those concerned with the future of Irish education and society. They are underlined by demographic changes, changes in religious attitudes, changes in parental preference in education and the level of expressed interest in areas all over the country for new Educate Together schools. This figure has now risen to 37 areas.
It is simply not enough for the Taoiseach, the Minister for Education and Science and our Department to fail to support this movement and to fail to bring forward the policy changes that are necessary to endorse this clear preference for many parents in Ireland.