01 July, 2014 - Update on Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary Sector published by Minister Quinn

Paper outlines progress made to date and discusses options for making all primary schools more inclusive

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has published a paper: Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions.

The document is a follow-up to the Report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which examined how to ensure and promote greater diversity and inclusion in primary schools. 

Despite the changed nature of Irish society with more people practising different religions and none, some 96% of all primary schools have religious patrons, with almost 90% of these under the patronage of the Catholic Church. 

The Forum made a series of recommendations on issues which included:

  • Future patronage arrangements;
  • Divesting of patronage;
  • Irish language provision; and
  • Promoting inclusion of diversity in existing schools. 

The paper published today gives an update on the progress made to date on implementing the recommendations and focuses on options for promoting diversity in existing schools.  It aims to inform schools of emerging good practices on inclusivity, rather than being prescriptive. 

The document is informed by a public consultation process which took place in the autumn of 2013 where parents in particular were asked their views on how primary schools should make all children feel included.  434 submissions were made.  There has also been an examination of how some schools are working to make all pupils feel welcome and included, no matter what their religion, beliefs or background. 

Minister Quinn said, “It is clear that there is no one size fits all approach to ensuring all schools are inclusive and welcoming.  Our schools have a proud tradition of serving their communities and have made an enormous contribution to our society. Denominational patrons have been an important part of this and will continue to play a strong role in our education system.  However, our schools can be busy places.  There is a risk that we can overlook some fundamental rights to which pupils and their parents are entitled.”

“These issues may not be a pressing concern for parents who are happy with their children’s schools.  This does not, however, release us from our responsibilities to make sure that schools are as welcoming and as inclusive as possible to all pupils of all backgrounds, beliefs and nationalities.” 

The document examines good practice in relation to:

  • The right to opt out of religion classes;
  • Scheduling of Religion Classes and other Religious Activities;
  • Options for Pupils in relation to Religious Ceremonies of the Ethos of the School;
  • Celebration of Religious Festivals;
  • Display of Artefacts.

Under the Constitution, all parents have the right to withdraw their child from religious instruction in schools.  Schools are obliged to respect this right, but according to the document, this is currently happening in a variety of ways, for example pupils may remain in class doing other work, they may leave the classroom but remain in the school under supervision or move to another class where they can participate in a different lesson.

With regard to scheduling religion classes, options such as religion classes taking place at the start or end of the school day, classes being clustered into one or two longer sessions per week or staggering religion classes in larger schools with multiple streams are outlined. 

The paper examines the need to balance the wish in denominational schools to celebrate their religious ethos in gatherings of the whole school community with the objective of inclusivity.  It is also recommended that the celebration of religious festivals be handled sensitively in consultation with parents and groups of different religions, beliefs and backgrounds. 

The banning of religious artefacts is not suggested.  Rather, other artefacts from different traditions could also be displayed in a school as part of a process of celebrating diversity and education about other belief systems. 

The document also outlines the work being done by the New Schools Establishment Group which is tasked with determining the patronage of any new schools built by the Department. 

Parental demand and plurality of choice of patron in an area are particularly considered by the Group when deciding patronage of new schools.

The paper also notes that the divestment process in areas where there is stable population and little prospect of new schools being opened has not been as rapid as originally envisaged.  43 areas were surveyed following the Forum Report; in 28 areas sufficient demand for a greater choice of patronage was identified.  Four Educate Together schools are due to open this September as part of this process, with a fifth multi-denominational school that opened in temporary accommodation last year, moving to an Edmund Rice Schools Trust building in September.

The engagement with patrons so far has been positive and it is expected that further progress can be achieved for new schools in 2015 and onwards.

Chairperson of the Forum, Professor John Coolahan welcomed the new paper, “This is a valuable and timely document.  It provides a good contextual analysis of the issues, highlights the underpinning reasons for change, provides an up-date on a sequence of relevant developments, and provides guidance to school communities on being more inclusive into the future.

“While it notes that progress on the recommended divestment of patronage process has been less than expected to date, the document indicates that Irish society is moving towards a more pluralist primary school system, respecting the rights of all citizens. It also reflects a more informed public awareness of the issues than was the case a few years ago.”

The paper can be accessed at link