Parents surveyed over primary school patronage

Friday 09 November 2012 19.55
Some Catholic schools are set to be transferred to another form of patronage
Some Catholic schools are set to be transferred to another form of patronage

Parents of young children in five towns and areas around the country have been asked to complete an online survey on the kind of Primary school they would like them to attend.

The Department of Education is seeking the views of the parents of pre-school and primary school children in Arklow, Trim, Tramore, Castlebar and Whitehall in Dublin.

RTÉ's Education and Science Correspondent Emma O Kelly looks at some of the issues surrounding the patronage survey

It is part of a process which could see some Catholic schools in these areas transferred to another form of patronage.

The Department intends to conduct a similar survey in 39 other areas of the country.

It’s part of a wider examination of how best to reform the primary school system so that it caters for children of all religious beliefs and none, no matter where they live.

I went to Castlebar on Thursday (a day before the deadline for completion of the survey) to gauge the views of parents there. Castlebar is especially interesting because it has eleven primary schools in its wider area but all of them are Catholic.

The nearest Church of Ireland school is in Westport, 18km away.

The closest multi denominational school is in Galway or Sligo, more than 70km away. Not really a practical option for parents!

I spoke to around 40 parents, all of pre-school children.

Some were dropping their children at the Park Academy Creche just outside the town. Other were attending a parent toddler group in nearby Manulla. Around half had not heard about the survey at all.

Others had a vague knowledge of it. Just four parents had actually completed the questionnaire.

If this is representative then it does not augur well for the exercise.

Most of the parents I spoke to were very happy with the current situation and saw no need for change.

They included one Muslim mother who told me that she was more than happy for her child to be educated in a Catholic school. The religions share the same foundation and promote the same values, she said. But another Muslim mother, a health professional in the local hospital, said she and many of her work colleagues would like to see change.

She, like many others, had heard nothing at all about the survey.

One non-Catholic parent said she had christened her first child - a girl - Catholic solely so that she would "fit in" in Primary school and be accepted. She said that eight years on she was happy with the decision she had taken.

Of the parents who said there was a general need for change, many were adamant that they did not, however, want their own local school to change.

There was a huge variety of opinion among the parents I spoke to. But virtually all of them shared one view. What they valued most of all when it came to choosing a school for their child was the sense of community that came with their local school.

The most important thing for them was that their child was happy, made friends, and fitted in. This strong and healthy attachment to a local school and local community is an important factor that will have to be taken into account in any change, if its to be successful.

My visit to Castlebar makes me wonder about this survey.

It can't possibly reflect the richness of views I heard from parents, the things they value, the things they don't want changed.

While most parents did not want change that would affect their own families, not one expressed opposition to the need to cater for other families who might want something different, though how that would be done was a sticking point for some.

The latest census data tells us that 83% of the population in the Castlebar area regard themselves as Catholic. After that, the biggest grouping is the 6% or so who say they have no religion or don't state any. The next biggest grouping is the 3.7% who identify themselves as Muslim.

The deadline for completion of this online survey is midnight tonight. It can be accessed through the Department of Education website at www.education.ie.

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