17 November, 2011 - Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector holds final public session

Forum not aimed at designing a new primary school system, but adapting existing system to make it more inclusive
 The Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector held its final public session today, 17th November, in the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin.    
Since the launch of the Forum on 19th of April 2011, almost 220 written submissions on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector have been received and a three day public session of the Forum was held in late June.   
The Advisory Group, which consists of Professor John Coolahan, Dr Caroline Hussey and Fionnuala Kilfeather, has analysed and evaluated a significant amount of data including the submissions received and research and practices on patronage and pluralism in schools in other countries. They have also consulted with eighty one primary and post primary school students. 
The purpose of today's session was to allow the Advisory Group the opportunity to share their reflections with the main stakeholders, including officials from the Department of Education and Skills, interested bodies and representatives from the general public.   
Following its consideration of the views expressed in response to the presentation, the Advisory Group will prepare its report for the Minister, before the end of the year. The report will contain a comprehensive set of recommendations relevant to this complex area of education policy for the Minister's consideration. 
Addressing the session, Professor Coolahan said that: "The Forum is part of a distinctive tradition of consultation in Irish education.  
"It has focussed attention on an issue of major national importance and it harvested a range of perspectives towards possible solutions.  
"The Forum was not aimed at designing a new primary school system, but adapting it to be more accommodating to the rights of contemporary citizens."  
A phased approach is being suggested by the Advisory Group, with a first phase involving work on 47 catchment areas or districts, covering 258 schools, where it seems that there is a need for divesting to allow for diversity of schools.  
One of the recommendations of the Group will be to issue a questionnaire, prepared by the Department in consultation with the partners, to the parents of all children of the 258 schools to get their views.
 As many schools, particularly in rural Ireland, are "stand alone" schools, with no other choice of school nearby, particular attention is being paid to how they can be more inclusive and respect the Constitutional rights of all pupils. Modifications are being suggested which should help schools to cater for pupils of all belief systems other than that of the majority of pupils. Changes to the "Rules for National Schools" and curricular guidelines are being proposed.
 Professor Coolahan continued: "Many of the issues involved are interconnected, and, while complex, good will, quality information, a sense of trust and a concern for the common good of a changing Irish society will go a long way to achieving greater school diversity, which all parties have agreed is necessary.   "I hope that this report will provide worthwhile advice and guidance towards practical solutions on diversity in the context of patronage in the primary school sector," concluded Professor Coolahan.  ENDS  Note for Editors: 
The proceedings will be webcast live and will be available on the Forum’s webpage on the Department's website.
The thirteen main stakeholders, besides the Department of Education and Skills, involved in the Working Session of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector are as follows: 
Association of Trustees of Catholic SchoolsCatholic Primary Schools Management AssociationEducate TogetherForas Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaelige TeorantaGaelscoileanna TeorantaIrish National Teachers'OrganisationIrish Primary Principals' NetworkIrish Vocational Education AssociationNational Association of Boards of Management in Special EducationNational Parents Council – PrimaryThe Board of Education of the Church of IrelandThe Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal ConferenceThe Islamic Foundation of Ireland