Minister Quinn outlines his Action Plan in response to the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector
The Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Ruairí Quinn T.D., today outlined his response to the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.
Meeting with the main education partners, the Minister said he broadly accepted the recommendations on divestment made by the Advisory Group and had requested that the process leading to divesting of patronage in areas of stable population begin immediately.
Minister Quinn said, "For many parents this will be the first time they will have a real say in the type of primary school they want their children to go to, whether it is denominational, multi-denominational, all-Irish or other. Surveys of parents will begin in the first identified town areas in the autumn."
Parents will be given full information on the different types of schools and the different possible patron bodies. Helplines will also be put in place during the survey period to deal with queries from parents.
These surveys will commence in the autumn in 44 town areas. The Advisory group had originally proposed that the process of divestment should proceed in 47 areas identified by the Department in 2010 at the request of the Catholic Church. However this list was based on data from the 2006 census. The information has been updated with the 2011 census data and also takes account of areas where diversity in primary school provision is already provided or planned.
Minister Quinn said, "I believe there will be a lot of interest in each area where a survey will be conducted and I am anxious that the local debate and surveys take place in a calm and respectful manner."
"My Department will consult with the patron bodies on a code of practice which will ensure that local discussions are conducted in a reasonable fashion."
The Minister has also decided that the remit of the New Schools Establishment Group will be expanded to support the divesting process.
At the briefing, Minister Quinn reiterated his view that there is a need to balance making real and substantial progress on ensuring diversity of choice of primary schools for parents, with the longer term need to ensure buy-in by the education partners to agreed arrangements for more diversity and inclusiveness, particularly in schools where choice of patronage is not available.
Minister Quinn said "Becoming more inclusive means ensuring that across the system as a whole there is respect for the diversity of traditions and religions from which pupils now come. This has to be done in a sensitive manner which takes account of where we are coming from as well as where we hope to go."
"I recognise that these issues are complex and very significant and I have decided that there should be a public consultation process on the findings and recommendations in the report with regard to promoting more inclusiveness in schools, particularly in 'Stand Alone Schools' where transfer of patronage is not an option."
The Minister outlined his intention to issue a formal call for submissions from education stakeholders and any other interested parties in September with a deadline for receipt of submissions of end November. The Minister has asked the National Parents Council (Primary) to advise on the development of an information leaflet for parents which will be circulated to all primary schools in the autumn to ensure parents are fully informed about the consultation process.
Following the consultation process, the Forum Report findings and recommendations in this area and the submissions received will be considered in drafting a White Paper as set out in the Programme for Government. This work is to be completed by early 2013.
The Minister also announced his intention to request the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to immediately start exploring, with the education partners and religious interests, the development of an Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics programmes which will supplement existing faith formation programmes in schools as recommended by the Advisory Group.
The Report also makes a number of recommendations concerning the provision of Irish medium schools. Minister Quinn said that he had decided to proceed immediately with the analysis of the start-up and growth of Irish medium schools as proposed by the Advisory Group. This analysis will inform future policy development in this area.
Minister Quinn thanked all those who made submissions and attended Forum working sessions for their input. In particular, the Minister said "I want to pay tribute to the Advisory Group, Professor John Coolahan, Dr. Caroline Hussey and Ms Fionnuala Kilfeather for the commitment, energy and expertise that they brought to this task. The Forum is a key commitment in the Programme for Government and I'm delighted that its work has been completed.'
"I look forward to working with stakeholders to implement the Action Plan and in providing greater diversity and choice of schools into the future."
Notes for Editors
The Report's recommendations regarding divesting focus on what is appropriate for areas of stable population, where new schools cannot be socially or economically justified but there is a demand for diversity of school types. The Report's recommendations can be broadly divided into three types:
- those dealing with the practicalities of achieving divesting of patronage where there is a stable population and a demand for diversity of school types;
- those dealing with Irish language provision; and
- those dealing with the creation of more inclusive schools, particularly 'Stand Alone' schools, often in rural areas, which account for about 1,700 of the 3,200 primary schools and where divesting to another patron is not an option.
The Report recommends achieving diversity of patronage by using the existing stock of schools in areas where the population is stable. Where there is a cluster of denominational schools but also parental demand for alternative school patronage, the report recommends that transfer of patronage be achieved with assistance from the Department.
The Advisory Group cautions against a 'big bang' approach and advises that change of patronage should happen in a phased way, through the adoption of a catchment area approach, taking account of the preferences of parents.
The report recommends that phase one of this work would involve examining school patronage in 43 towns and 4 Dublin areas identified by the Department in 2010, arising from a request by the Catholic Church, as likely to have substantial demand for diversity.
As this list was based on the 2006 census, the DES has updated it using the 2011 census and taking into account areas which already have diversity in primary school provision. The list of 44 areas is below.
New Schools Establishment Group
The Minister appointed the New Schools Establishment Group in 2011 to advise him on the patronage of new primary and second level schools.
The New Schools Establishment Group’s terms of reference are being expanded to include:
- To advise the Department regarding undertaking the survey of parental preferences in the identified areas.
- To validate the completed survey work undertaken by the Department in relation to each of the identified areas before the outcome of the survey is transmitted to the relevant Patrons.
- To analyse (a) the Department’s evaluation of the divesting options presented by the relevant Patrons in each identified area and (b) the recommendations being made by DES regarding divesting of schools to alternative patrons to ensure these are in accordance with parental preferences and demand.
- To report to the Minister and make recommendations (including indicative timelines for actions) regarding divesting of schools to alternative patrons in each of the identified areas having regard to parental preferences.
Timeline for surveys in the 44 areas
- A public advertisement to formally invite expressions of interest for patronage of schools in the forty four areas identified for the first phase of surveying and divesting process will be made by end of June 2012.
- Public advertisement in the five pilot areas to be surveyed will be placed at the beginning of October 2012. Helpline to be put in place to deal with any queries from the public or school communities in relation to the surveying.
- Pilot in the first five areas to be surveyed to be completed during October.
- Validation of the survey outcomes in the five initial areas to be undertaken in conjunction with the New Schools Advisory Group during November 2012.
- Following validation, the outcome of the surveys in the five initial areas are to be published and sent to all patrons for consideration of divesting options.
- Public advertisement in the balance of the forty four areas to be surveyed will be placed at the beginning of November 2012.
- Surveying in the balance of the forty four areas will commence in November 2012.
List of areas to be included in initial phase of surveys