The Private Secretary for the Department of Education, Cathal Goslin, has responded to the CEO’s recent letter (17th February) to the Minister for Education on the Schools Divestment Programme. The HAI appreciates the response, however, the response does not address the issues raised by us.
We raised concerns about the pace of change in divesting schools from religious patronage, given that last year, only one school changed its ethos. These concerns have not been addressed in the letter.
United Nations Recommendations
We asked the Minister to update us on how the government intends to deliver on the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, who called for an end to religious discrimination in schools by
- Amending the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 and the Equal Status Acts to remove any exceptions to ensuring a child’s right to education in all primary and secondary schools based on religious or “ethos” grounds and to establish statutory guidelines to ensure children’s right not to attend religious classes;
- Developing a time-bound strategy, with adequate resources, for meeting its targets for increasing the availability of multi-denominational schools by 2030, and setting a target with a time-bound strategy and adequate resources for increasing the availability of non-denominational schools
The response we received did not address this issue at all.
We asked the Minister to set out her plans for how she intends to achieve the target of delivering 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030. The response addressed this in vague terms, with no specifics and no year-by-year targets. It is positive to hear that the pilot process is engaging with 63 schools in the cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick and the Arklow, Athlone, Dundalk and Youghal areas, however presumably the 63 schools referred to includes the school in Raheny, where the divestment process failed earlier this year. Only two schools – Athlone and Dublin 8 – are confirmed as actually divesting from religious patronage under this process. The response states that the Department is “hopeful that there will be a number of other transfers of patronage and change of ethos to multi-denominational in the short term”. However, it does not specify how that hope will be translated into action. It is clear from the response that there is no specific plan for how the government intends to achieve 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030.
The most recent figures available from the Department of Education indicate that there are currently 166 inter-denominational or multi-denominational primary schools in Ireland. This leaves a mammoth journey ahead for the government to achieve its plan of 400 by 2030.
Letter from the Minister’s Private Secretary
The full text of the letter from the Minister’s Private Secretary is included below:
Dear Ms. Brennan,
I wish to refer to your correspondence to the Minister for Education, Ms. Norma Foley TD in relation to the School Reconfiguration for Diversity Process.
The Government’s objective is to have at least 400 multi-denominational schools in the primary system by 2030 to improve parental choice. The Minister fully supports this commitment and is working with the Department in this respect. In recent years there has been progress towards increasing the numbers of multi-denominational primary schools with the vast majority of new primary schools established in the last decade having a multi-denominational ethos.
In March 2022, the Minister announced that arrangements are being put in place in a number of towns and areas of cities that have no multi-denominational primary schools to identify potential schools and to engage with school authorities, school staff and the school communities with a view to agreeing on a transfer of patronage and change of ethos, where there is sufficient demand for this.
The Schools Reconﬁguration for Diversity process, supporting transfers of schools to multi-denominational patrons in response to the wishes of local communities, has been developed in order to accelerate the delivery of multi-denominational schools across the country. Where a school transfers from the patronage of one patron to another, the school remains open with the same roll number and operating from the same school property. All State-funded primary schools follow a common national curriculum and are subject to the same rules and regulations.
The pilot process is engaging with 63 schools in the cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick and the Arklow, Athlone, Dundalk and Youghal areas. The Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal Conference (representing the Catholic patrons) and relevant Bishops have confirmed their willingness to engage and co-operate fully with the Department in seeking to facilitate a more diverse school patronage in these towns and cities.
The Department made available a number of independent facilitators, who are former senior inspectors, across the pilot areas to work with the school patron and relevant school authorities at a local level. This work involves engagement with school authorities, school staff and parents with a view to agreeing on a transfer of patronage and change of ethos, where there is sufficient demand for this. This process is about providing information and engaging with, and seeking feedback from, the school community.
The pilot has already facilitated increased diversity. Two schools, Athlone (Cornamaddy National School) & Dublin 8 (St. Enda’s school, Whitefriar St.) will be transferring from Catholic patronage to the local Education and Training Board becoming multi-denominational community national schools. The Department is hopeful that there will be a number of other transfers of patronage and change of ethos to multi-denominational in the short term.
The engagement at local level across all pilot areas has concluded and this is helping to clarify the level of demand for reconfiguration in these areas.
The Department is committed to pulling together information on what worked well across the pilot and what could be done better. The Department will work with the relevant stakeholders to apply this learning to future phases of work. The learnings from the process in the pilot areas should provide a pathway forward on the process for providing multi-denominational options for parents in other towns and areas of the country going forward.
The goal remains to establish a strong process, that has the support of all patrons and local communities, and which will enable us to continue to increase the number of multi-denominational primary schools across the country.