Bishops committed to school changes

Wednesday 22 June 2011 19.30
Primary education - Forum on patronage was established earlier this year
Primary education - Forum on patronage was established earlier this year

The Catholic bishops have said there should be no doubt about the church's commitment to changing school patronage structures to reflect the needs of a diverse population.

Addressing a public session of the forum on school patronage, the bishops warned about terrible local antagonism if communities are not involved in the process.

Chairman John Coulihan pressed the bishops at length for what he called assurances that they were proactively seeking ways to bring about a resolution of the patronage issue.

Mr Coulihan told the Catholic bishops that 'goodwill' in approaching the issue of finance and the transfer of school properties from the church to other bodies.

Otherwise he said the whole issue would become stymied.

In their submission to the forum the bishops say that local communities are likely to expect compensation for any properties transferred.

Commenting at the public hearing the bishops said there were complex legal issues surrounding the transfer of properties.

They said most of these properties were held by trusts.

They said these trusts would have to give approval before any properties could be transferred.

In a separate submission the trustees of Catholic Schools say any such trusts may require financial recompense for any such transfer.

Many school properties are owned by diocesan or parish trusts.

The religious congregations have also in recent years transferred their properties from their direct ownership into newly-established trusts.

The Catholic Primary School Managers Association is addressing the forum this afternoon. Asked about how best to establish the need for diversity in individual areas, they said birth statistics and baptismal registers should be compared to establish the need for non Catholic education provision in an area.

The National Parents Council were also questioned by the forum.

The NPC said a survey it carried out among parents found a 50/50 split between those who believed Catholic children should be prepared for the sacraments during the school day and those who believed such preparation should take place outside the school day.

Earlier, Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn called for positive engagement from all participants.

The forum, which is taking place over three days, is hearing from all the patron bodies in primary education.

Mr Quinn attended the opening session this morning.

Afterwards he said the job of the forum was to find a mechanism whereby a change in ethos could be achieved openly and transparently.

He said he wanted changes to the patronage of schools to reflect the reality on the ground.

Mr Quinn said he believed there would be no losers in the process.

Asked about earlier comments that he would like to see 50% of all Catholic schools transferred to a different patronage, Mr Quinn said he was basing that figure on research among parents carried out by the Catholic church.

Mr Quinn said ‘we should be ambitious and aim high’.

All of the 210 submissions made to the forum and webcasts of the public sessions are available on the Department of Education's website, www.education.ie.

Meanwhile, The Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has met with the Irish Educational Publishers Association about addressing the rising costs of books and accusations that publishers are constantly forcing parents to buy new editions.

The Minister has raised his concerns, parents issue and the St Vincent de Paul's concerns over the high costs of school books and the frequent revisions of the texts.