28 May, 2018 - Minister Bruton commences plan to increase provision of multi- and non-denominational schools

Surveys to pre-school parents now underway; surveys to be completed in the next two weeks

‘Early-movers’ provision allows communities to accelerate transfers

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T. D. today (Monday, 28th of May) announced that surveys of parents of pre-school children in 16 areas across the country are now under way, commencing the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process.

Today’s announcement fulfils a key action in the Action Plan for the Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.

Most schools – denominational and multi–denominational, welcome children with all beliefs and none. Notwithstanding that however, it is recognised that more diversity is needed to meet the changing needs of our population.

The Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process is Minister Bruton’s plan to deliver on the Government’s target to reach 400 multi-denominational and non-denominational schools by 2030. New schools will account for a certain amount of this provision, but transfers of existing schools from religious patronage will also be required to achieve that target.

Minister Bruton said: “The new process will draw on the lessons from the previous model, such as the importance of live transfers and the downsides of having to await closures or amalgamations.”

There are two Phases to the new School Reconfiguration process – the Identification Phase and the Implementation Phase. Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the Identification Phase.

This change needs to evolve locally, within communities themselves. Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are locally-based education authorities and therefore best placed to lead this process. Each of the 16 ETBs across the country have selected an initial pilot area where the first surveys of pre-school parents will be carried out. The relevant City and County Childcare Committee will actually conduct the surveys on behalf of the ETB. Parents will now have two weeks in which to complete the surveys, and all surveys will be completed by mid-June 2018.

ETBs will then analyse the survey results and draw up a comprehensive report on the position in relation to each of the 16 pilot areas for submission to the Department of Education and Skills, who will then subsequently publish the reports.

The survey results will form the basis of discussions with the most prevalent patron/landowner in the area (the Catholic Bishop in most cases) concerning the transfer of patronage of an existing school to meet that demand. The response by the landowner/patron to any identified demand for greater diversity will be included in the report prepared by the ETB. Quarterly reports will provide updates on implementation.

Minister Bruton said: “Our aim is to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026. This means being the best at dealing with complex issues around diversity, inclusion and parental choice. This new process for supporting transfers of schools to multi-denominational patrons, in response to the wishes of local families, is based around principles of transparency and cooperation.

“I believe this process has the potential to change the course of education in Ireland by providing a system which reflects the changing needs of families. I urge all parties to engage in this process constructively, with a view to reaching solutions that achieve the wishes of all involved.” 

A second round of town selections and surveys of pre-school parents will be organised by ETBs when the outcomes of the initial round of pilot surveys have been assessed and any necessary adjustments made in the process.

Following the publication of the first round of reports, the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process will move into the Implementation Phase. The Implementation Phase will involve:

  • Consultation with local school communities on accommodating the demand for diversity by transferring patronage of an existing school to a new multi- or non-denominational patron.
  • Agreement on transfer to a new patron following engagement with all potential patrons and school/community.
  • Application to the Minister for transfer of patronage of the selected school. 

Minister Bruton said “The identification of a new patron must reflect the wishes of parents and of the school community. In each case, I believe that the best way to achieve this will be to hold a public meeting where each prospective patron can make their case to the school community, followed by a vote of all parents within that school community (whether they attended the meeting or not).”

The Minister also announced that the “early movers” provision will enable school communities which have already decided to seek a transfer of patronage (independent of the survey process) to request their existing patron to apply to the Minister for a direct transfer of patronage under section 8 of the Education Act. The Minister encouraged any school which is seeking an early transfer of patronage to contact their patron directly.

Such a transfer has already successfully taken place in Two-Mile National School outside Killarney, where the Catholic Bishop of Kerry requested a transfer of patronage to Kerry ETB on foot of a request from local parents and the school successfully reopened in September 2017 as a multi-denominational Community National School.

It is understood that a number of schools are currently considering transfers of patronage under the “early movers” provision of the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process and the Department is supportive of the progression of such applications.

The Minister reiterated his view that there is no one model that will provide the answer to this complex issue, there is room for a number of different multi- and non-denominational patrons to respond to different parental wishes through the different process now in place, including existing providers like An Foras Patrunachta, the Community National Schools and Educate Together.

Since Minister Bruton was appointed Minister for Education and Skills, a total of 26 additional multi-denominational schools have been established or sanctioned.

ENDS 

Notes to Editors

Areas to be surveyed:

Education and Training Board

Area Identified for Pre-School Survey

Longford and Westmeath ETB

Athlone, Co. Westmeath

City of Dublin ETB

parts of Dublin 1

Kilkenny and Carlow ETB

Tullow, Co. Carlow

Cork ETB

Kinsale, Co. Cork

Louth and Meath ETB

Laytown/Bettystown/Mornington/Donacarney,   Co. Meath

Galway and Roscommon ETB

Athenry, Co. Galway

Kerry ETB

Kenmare/Sneem, Co. Kerry

Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB

Skerries, Co. Dublin

Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB

Claremorris, Co. Mayo

Donegal ETB

Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Co. Donegal

Limerick and Clare ETB

Ennis, Co. Clare

Tipperary ETB

Roscrea, Co. Tipperary

Waterford and Wexford ETB

Waterford City

Cavan and Monaghan ETB

Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan

Kildare and Wicklow ETB

Bray, Co. Wicklow

Laois and Offaly ETB

Edenderry, Co. Offaly

 

Identification Phase

ETBs have used Census data to identify the areas where there is most likely to be a demand for multi-denominational or non-denominational schools,when making their choice.

All surveys will be carried out by the local City or County Childcare Committee working in cooperation with the relevant ETB. City and County Childcare Committees act as a local agent for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in the administration of aspects of national early education and childcare programmes.

Implementation Phase

Following the publication of the first round of reports, the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process will move into the Implementation Phase, involving existing patrons consulting with their local school communities on accommodating the demand for diversity by transferring patronage of an existing school to a new multi- or non-denominational patron.

The development of protocols for the Implementation Phase is continuing and it is clear from initial discussions that all parties, including church authorities, want the process of the selection of a new patron to reflect the wishes of the parents and school community. In agreeing the protocols for the Implementation Phase, the Department will be clear that, in arranging for transfers of schools to multi-denominational patrons, the choice of alternative patron should be based on principles of transparency and cooperation and reflect the wishes of parents.

Background

2018 marks six years since the publication of the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.

The Forum was guided by a highly expert Advisory Group and held public sessions and consulted widely on the issues arising. 

The Forum's Report was published in 2012 and recommended steps to ensure that the education system at primary level could provide a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools to cater for children of all religions and none.

One of the principal recommendations was on divesting of school patronage, where it was envisaged that existing patrons would make buildings surplus to requirements available for greater diversity if sufficient demand for a school under different patronage could be demonstrated.

However, the reality is that, despite very substantial survey work and negotiations undertaken by the Department, only ten new multi-denominational schools were established under the Patronage Divestment process over that period.

Patronage of schools involves ownership of schools and school property and in the consultation process, it became clear that divestment is seen as taking away property from the patron or trustees as landowners.

The landowner has misgivings and there is no way forward without meeting these concerns.

The common misconception, that the State could simply withdraw funding from denominational primary schools and use it to establish new multi-denominational and non-denominational schools in the same building instead, is exactly that – a misconception. The ownership and control of school property is a complex issue, both constitutionally and in terms of property law and rights.

Typically, it can involve religious trusts, trustees, religious orders, the bishops both as landowners and school patrons and the State.

The ownership of the vast majority of school property by religious orders and trusts is an historical legacy of the way in which Ireland’s education system developed.

In some cases where church authorities have been amenable to transferring property, local parish communities have resisted divestment on the basis that they have contributed to these valuable community assets over the years.

Another difficulty with progressing patronage divesting was that the process relied substantially on school premises becoming available as a result of school amalgamations or closures which, in themselves, can be lengthy, costly and contentious processes.

In devising this roadmap to accelerate the transfer of patronage in order to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools, the Minister’s new plan concentrates on the reconfiguration of existing school provision.

By this the Minister means facilitating voluntary transfers of existing schools to alternative, non-denominational or multi-denominational patrons in line with the wishes of parents in areas which demonstrate a demand.

The lessons from the previous model include:

  • The importance of working with the current landowner, school staff, school communities and local communities on a collaborative and open basis.
  • The downsides of amalgamation, closure and opening a new school as a model, given all the complexities, including legal complexities, that can be involved.
  • Working to facilitate live transfers, whereby a school continues in being, with staff, pupils and the majority of the board of management remaining in place (if they wish) but transfers from the patronage of one organisation to another.
  • The value of a lease arrangement from the current landowner to the new patron, removing the need for complicated property transfer. 

City and County Childcare Committees

Thirty three City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) are funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) and act as a local agent for DCYA in the administration of aspects of national early education and childcare programmes. The CCCs are often the first port of call for both parents and childcare providers when trying to access many of today’s early years care and education initiatives (e.g. CETS, ECCE, CCS, Childminding grants). Having a local focus and knowledge means that CCCs are well positioned to support the Patronage Reconfiguration Process and their involvement ensures that the survey process is entirely independent and impartial.