Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Commencement Matters

School Enrolments

2:30 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

There is a huge surge in demand for non-denominational schools but we must begin from a starting point where 95% of schools are denominational. The State honours its commitment to provide free primary education through that structure.The constitutional provision is that no child should be forced to take religion in their class. There is not a provision, however, which states every parent should get the school of their choice. Such a provision, unfortunately, would be unworkable.

I fully acknowledge the quality of the Educate Together model. I also commend the Foras Pátrúnachta and the Gaelscoil model, as well as the education and training boards' community and national schools. These are all multidenominational models with different approaches and are excellent in their approach. I strongly commend them. Virtually every new primary school which I and my colleagues before me have built has gone to non-denominational patrons. There is no question about parental preference. The model that is driving this is transfer of patronage. The old model through amalgamation, divestiture and selling off has proved difficult to deliver. Complemented by a new model, we are hoping we can get greater progress.

On the specific situation concerning the schools which developed under that model, I will look at the case being put forward. I cannot say when that review will be completed at this point. The Department will have to see the demographic numbers in each area, as well as issues around feasibility of accommodation solutions and the nature of available space elsewhere. Ideally, we would like to see patronage transferred to new patrons, including in areas such as these.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I know it is an issue of particular concern to parents which we are taking seriously.


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