Varied response to patronage survey

Tuesday 02 April 2013 08.21
Surveys have been carried out with regard to school patronage
Surveys have been carried out with regard to school patronage

RTÉ's Education and Science Correspondent Emma O Kelly @emma_okelly examines the findings of the report on school patronage

This report has its origins in the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism published a year ago.

It said surveys should be carried out in 44 areas where provision was currently restricted to mainly Catholic and sometimes Church of Ireland schools.

Late last year, five of those areas were surveyed. In each case immediate demand was found for a new multi-denominational school.

Early this year a further 38 areas were surveyed.

The parents of under-12 year olds were asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire and had to include PPS numbers as proof of identity.

In all, almost 11,000 valid responses were received, representing more than 20,000 children.

Almost three quarters came from parents with children currently attending Primary school.

Varied response rate

The response rate varies hugely from area to area.

In Shannon for instance, it represents 57% of children currently attending primary school. In Killarney that figure is just 20%.

The survey shows significant variations in numbers who want additional forms of school patronage in their areas.

For example in Dublin 6, an area which already has one multidenominational school, parents representing 15% of primary school children say they want additional choice; 12% say they would avail of a wider choice, if it existed.

When asked what kind of additional school they want the majority said Educate-Together.

In Nenagh, the parents of just 5% of primary school children said they would prefer to have a wider choice.

There are 23 areas where the Department of Education has deemed current demand strong enough to immediately support a new four-teacher school.

In 20 of these areas, parents favour a new school under the patronage of Educate Together.

In two areas, Carrigaline in Cork and Celbridge in Co Kildare, Educate Together did not offer itself as a patron. Parents in both of these areas favour a multidenominational school run by the VEC.

In one place, Birr in Co Offaly, parents favoured a multidenominational Gaelscoil to be run by An Foras Pátrúnachta.

In the remaining 15 areas, there are parents who want a wider choice. But the Department of Education deemed the numbers too small to support a new four-teacher school right now. However, it says it recognises that this may change in the future.

A rough calculation of figures contained in this report indicates that at least around 8% of parents overall want a wider choice of school patron in their area.

This calculation is based upon the overall number of primary school going children in given areas compared to the number of children in that same area whose parents say in this survey that they want a wider choice.

This calculation, however, assumes that all parents who did not complete the survey do not want a wider choice. So the actual percentage could be a little higher.

What happens now?

The country's Catholic bishops will now be asked to examine their schools with a view to reconfiguration.

This would most likely mean the joining of two existing schools, possibly two single sex boys’ and girls’ schools. This would be done with a view to freeing up a school building to house a new multidenominational school.

However, there are significant difficulties that have yet to be overcome.

While the Catholic Church has indicated its broad willingness to engage in such a process, it has warned that the wishes of local communities must be taken into account.

In one Dublin area, where the process of transferring a Catholic school is far advanced, a significant obstacle has emerged.

The Archdiocese has approved the transfer of the school in Basin Lane. But the Christian Brothers Trust which owns the building has said it wants financial compensation in return.

The Department of Education is currently locked in protracted negotiations with the Edmund Rice Schools' Trust.

What happens in Basin Lane could well decide the future course of this historic attempt to provide choice for parents and primary school children.