Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This is the second time in the past 12 months that I have raised this issue on the Adjournment. I am frequently approached by teachers and parents frustrated by the failure of the Department to grant permanent recognition to Mol an Óige national school in Ennistymon, County Clare.
The school has been in existence for a number of years and its population is well in excess of 100. According to the latest figures, some 126 children are enrolled in the school, which probably makes it one of the biggest schools of this type in the country. The teaching quality at the school is of a very high standard. Teaching quality throughout County Clare is of a very high standard.
Many parents are choosing to bring their children to Mol an Óige national school which has received temporary recognition and I have no reason to believe it will not continue to receive such recognition. However, the parents want permanent recognition for a number of reasons, the overriding reason being that they want to send their children to a school that is recognised by the State. Temporary recognition is far from permanent recognition and I would like the Minister of State to outline the criteria used in seeking and granting permanent recognition. At what stage of the process is Mol an Óige national school at? Is it on the radar? Within what timeframe can the parents of the children attending the school realistically expect permanent recognition to be granted? Is there a reason such recognition is not being granted? Perhaps some personnel within the Department are in favour of an ethos that differs from the teaching principles used in the school. These principles are mainstream, in effect. It is unfair that some children have almost gone through the entire primary school cycle - I have mentioned that the school has been in existence for a number of years - while the school has continued to operate on the basis of temporary recognition. Given that it has gone through the process mentioned and that the parents and teachers have put a serious effort into meeting all the criteria required for permanent recognition, perhaps it is time for the Department to meet them more than halfway.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to outline the current position on the recognition status of Mol an Óige national school in Ennistymon, County Clare. The school in question which implements the Steiner approach to education was initially awarded provisional recognition in 2008. This was extended each year until October 2012 when a three year extension was granted. The current position is that the school has provisional recognition until 31 August 2015. This extension is designed to give the school a sufficient opportunity to satisfactorily meet the criteria for recognition agreed in 2008. The extension will not prevent the school from receiving permanent recognition in the interim if the criteria for recognition are met. As the Senator is aware, all recognised schools, regardless of their philosophy or ethos, are required to comply with the Education Act 1998 and the rules for national schools. Specific criteria relating to patronage, the board of management, implementation of the curriculum, admissions policy and procedures for the appointment of teaching staff must also be satisfied by schools seeking permanent recognition. Such recognition is contingent on schools demonstrating they meet these requirements satisfactorily.
A process is under way with regard to the request for permanent recognition from the school. This process is based on its progress in fulfilling ten undertakings committed to by its patron in 2008. These undertakings were based on requirements outlined in the Education Act 1998, the rules for national schools which all recognised schools must meet and the aforementioned criteria which all schools applying for permanent recognition must satisfy. One of the undertakings is that the school will follow the primary school curriculum. It is important to note that the decision on full recognition depends on the satisfactory implementation of all the undertakings. Officials from the Department met the school authorities last October to discuss the current position on the undertakings and the school's application for permanent recognition. I understand substantial progress has been made. However, significant issues remain to be resolved, particularly in respect of curricular provision for pupils in infant classes. I understand the Department and the school have committed to ongoing engagement with the objective of enabling the school to meet the permanent recognition criteria as soon as possible.
If a school is to be considered for permanent recognition, it must make an application stating it has met the criteria for recognition of new primary schools, which include the requirements to follow the 1999 primary school curriculum, comply with the rules for national schools and demonstrate that enrolments are sufficient for the long-term viability of the school. The enrolment requirement is usually but not always confined to a period of three years. The Department has granted permanent recognition to 45 schools since 2008, the majority of which are in developing school areas. The recognition process for each of the schools was undertaken on a case by case basis and varied in duration for that reason. All of the 45 schools granted permanent recognition met all of the criteria satisfactorily. A number of schools granted provisional recognition prior to 2008 are still awaiting permanent recognition, as they do not meet all of the criteria required to be met.
I again thank the Senator for giving me an opportunity to outline the position on the application for permanent recognition from Mol an Óige national school.
The board of management and, in particular, the parents who participate actively in the running and development of the school have convinced me that they have met all of the criteria. They are concerned that permanent recognition continues to be an issue. I ask the Minister of State to check the matter again because I understand the delay is being caused by a specific issue. While I do not expect him to do that today, perhaps he might do so when he returns to the Department of Education and Skills tomorrow. My understanding is that it is a question of a specific mannerism associated with the teaching methodology being used to teach a particular element of one subject. This issue should be resolved well in advance of the end of the current three year period for the sake of everyone involved.
The Department has been very proactive in trying to address the question of the permanent recognition of the school and its door is always open. It is willing to collaborate with the school to achieve that recognition. As the Senator has mentioned and I pointed out in my initial response, there are certain issues relating to the delivery of the curriculum in the school's junior classes. If the school and the Department were to collectively focus on how these challenges can be overcome, we could move towards a point where recognition could be achieved soon. If these issues can be addressed, recognition can be achieved in the very near future.