Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Department of Education and Skills
283. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the progress which has been made in evaluating the potential in local areas in which there is a substantial demand for non-religious education but the catchment is only served by religious schools to facilitate the change of patron by a process of needs assessment and release of one of the religious schools to a new patron. [49396/21]
The Programme for Government commits to achieving a target of at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030 to improve parental choice.
I fully support this commitment and am working with the Department to develop a number of different approaches in the context of an expanding population in some areas and an increasing demand for multi-denominational education. The Schools Reconfiguration process, along with approaches such as the patronage divesting process, voluntary reassignments of patronage under Section 8 of the Education Act 1998 and the patronage process for new schools, which includes consideration of parental preferences for different types of school patron, will contribute to the achievement of this target. In recent years there has been progress towards increasing the numbers of multi-denominational primary schools with the vast majority of new primary schools established to cater for demographic demand in the last decade having a multi-denominational ethos.
The Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process, supporting transfers of schools to multi-denominational patrons in response to the wishes of local families, has been developed in order to accelerate the delivery of multi-denominational schools across the country. This Reconfiguration process involves the transfer of existing live schools as opposed to the amalgamation and/or closure model of the patronage divesting process.
The initial identification phase of the process involved each of the 16 Education and Training Boards identifying an initial pilot area within their functional area where they considered there may be unmet oncoming demand for a multi-/non-denominational school and arranging for surveys of parents of pre-school children in these areas.
My Department has been engaging with representatives of the Irish Episcopal Conference (Catholic Bishops) with a view to developing an agreed approach to the next Phase of the process. The identification phase work provides useful learning and is informing the development of the process.
The “Early Movers” provision of the Schools Reconfiguration process enables school communities which have already decided to seek a transfer of patronage (independent of the survey process envisaged as part of the Reconfiguration process) to engage with their school patron on the matter. A patron may transfer patronage under section 8 of the Education Act 1998. A number of patronage changes have taken place in recent years in this context, resulting in the provision of an additional 11 multi-denominational Community National Schools. In addition, an Irish-medium gaelscoil has recently changed patronage from its Catholic patron to An Foras Pátrúnachta. From September 2021, this school offers parents of junior infants the choice of undertaking an Ethics and Morality Program and, for parents who so chose, a Catholic programme is provided.
School communities who wish to explore the potential to transfer patronage should contact their school patron in the first instance.