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Bishops committed to school reform

June 23, 2011

School boards of management could feel “set upon” if a change of patronage is imposed without full consultation, a leading Catholic Church represented has warned.

Addressing the National Forum on School Patronage and Pluralism in Primary Schools, Fr Michael Drumm of the Catholic Schools Partnership said there was a great danger local communities would not “buy into” the process if it was forced upon them. During the hearing, Catholic Church representatives stressed their willingness to work fully towards a “re-imagining” of school patronage. At present, the church controls close to 3,000 of the 3,200 primary schools in the State. Forum chairman Prof John Coolahan questioned the bishops closely, asking them repeatedly if they were willing to take a proactive role in the transfer of patronage to other providers. The process was dependent, he said, on goodwill from the Church on issues like finance and the transfer of school properties from the church to other bodies.

Otherwise he said the whole issue would become stymied. Earlier, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said he was delighted with the constructive approach taken by the Catholic Church in their submissions to the forum . There would , he predicted , be “no losers” in the process. In a submission to the forum, the Catholic bishops criticised as “very unhelpful” a suggestion by Mr Quinn that 50 per cent of primary schools under their control could be transferred to other patrons. Today, Mr Quinn stood over his comments, pointing to a survey by the Catholic Bishops Conference on Education where only half of the Catholic parents surveyed said they would choose a school under a religious denomination. Last month, Fr Drumm said a transfer figure of 10 per cent was more realistic The Catholic church was well-represented at today’s hearing with nine representatives from three different groups – the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association and the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools. The Council for Education of the Irish Bishops’ Conference was represented by Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop Leo O’Reilly and Fr Drumm.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin who opened the debate on school patronage three years ago was not present at the hearings. Dr Martin has noted that 90 per cent of Dublin primary schools were under his patronage, while the percentage population who actively wanted a Catholic education could be as low as 50 per cent. There was sparse attendance at the forum my members of the general public who were invited to attend the three-day hearings at the Clock Tower in the Department of Education.

The Irish Times – Seán Flynn
22 Meitheamh 2011