Eithne Woulfe ssl is Director of CORI Education.
Sr. Eithne is mainly concerned with education in Northern Ireland and the Strategic Task Group on Education. Sr. Eithne is also a member of the Council of CSP.
The first element of the Service i.e. Catholic Schools Partnership has been established since September 2009 with Fr. Michael Drumm as Executive Chair.
SUBMISSION ON THE REVIEW OF
THE PROCESS FOR RECOGNISING NEW PRIMARY SCHOOLS
On behalf of CORI
THE CONFERENCE OF RELIGIOUS OF IRELAND
1.01. This Submission is made on behalf of CORI
1.02. Over 300 of the 3282 primary schools in Ireland are in the trusteeship of religious congregations in the membership of CORI and under the patronage of the Catholic Bishops. All boards and individual members of boards of management of these and all Catholic primary schools are members of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), a recognized school management body.
1.03. The Episcopal Commission for Education articulates policy and vision for Catholic Education in Ireland on behalf of the Episcopal Conference. It has responsibility for the forward planning necessary to ensure the best provision for Catholic Education in the country.
1.04. CORI supports the Catholic Church’s commitment to continuing its involvement in primary education in accordance with the wishes of Catholic parents. It is acknowledged that there is also a need for other forms of patronage in a diverse society.
1.05. As this submission is about future provision it is particularly important to stress that all patron bodies will be afforded demonstrably equal access to that role where appropriate and without discrimination.
2.00. LEGAL FRAMEWORK
2.01. International Law
In making provision for new primary schools it is important that the provisions in International Law as set out in the following documents be observed:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Art.26.3.
The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (1966) Art. 13.3
The European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Art.2.
2.02. Irish Law
Bunreacht na hÉireann
The Irish Constitution acknowledges the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children and clearly sets out the State’s obligations to make provision for education without discrimination. The following Articles are pertinent:
• Article 42.1
• Article 42.3.1
• Article 42.4
• Article 44.2.2
• Article 44.2.4
2.03 The Education Act 1998
The Education Act (1998) supports extant International and Irish law in again recognising the rights of parents to have their children educated in conformity to their own religious convictions. The following sections of the Education Act (1998) are relevant:
• Section 6 (e) – parents’ choice
• Section 9 15(2) (d) – admissions policy
• Section 10 – diversity of school type
• Section 15 (2) (d) – the characteristic spirit of the school and constitutional rights of all persons concerned
• Section 15 (2) (e) principles and requirements of a democratic society
These rights are also acknowledged and respected in the Rules for National Schools (1965) and in the Curriculum for Primary Schools both of which are grounded in Bunreacht na hÉireann
3.00. EXISTING POSITION
3.01. The Department of Education & Science states that the Minister is prepared to grant recognition to new schools where sufficient demand is demonstrated and where there exists no suitable alternative provision within a reasonable distance. The following criteria were used by the New Schools Advisory Committee (NSAC) (June 2007), to assess applications:
1. The proposed school meets a need that cannot reasonably be met within existing provision.
2. The local community is consulted in advance.
3. The Patron has been registered as such by the Minister for Education and Science.
4. A Board of Management will be appointed in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science.
5. The Rules for National Schools will be complied with.
6. The proposed school has a minimum initial enrolment of 17 junior infants and a minimum projected enrolment of 51 pupils for the third year of operation.
7. All pupils are at least four years of age on 30th September of the year in which the school is due to commence operation.
8. In accordance with Section 10 (2) (e) of the Education Act 1998, proposed interim school accommodation must comply with current Planning and Development regulations.
9. The school will follow the Primary School Curriculum of the Department of Education and Science.
10. The school will employ recognised primary school teachers.
4.00. CATHOLIC PRIMARY SCHOOLS
4.01. The Catholic Church recognizes that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children and strives to assist them in this task. The Catholic Church is committed to providing Catholic schools to cater for the needs of parents who wish their children to have a Catholic education and the Catholic Bishops have reiterated their intention to continue their involvement in providing schools for Catholic parents. The future role of the Catholic Church in the provision of primary education is enunciated in the document entitled: A Policy for Provision into the Future. (Irish Episcopal Conference: Vision ’08 May 2008)
4.02. Wherever possible, Catholic schools, in keeping with their ethos, and provided that they have places and resources, welcome children of other faiths or none.
4.03. Catholic schools provide an important service to society. In emphasizing the values of community, justice, respect and forgiveness students are helped to grow in maturity and to take their place as responsible members of society. A Catholic school is a ‘civic institution’; its aim, methods and characteristics are the same as those of every other school. A Catholic school is also a ‘Christian community’. There is no contradiction between the civic and the religious goals of Catholic education because the promotion of the human person is the goal of both.
4.04. The Catholic Church accepts that there should be choice and diversity within a national education system. As well as the ongoing commitment to Catholic Education there is a commitment to supporting other forms and models of patronage. As early as 1997 and again in 2007 the Catholic Bishops and CPSMA called for additional models of patronage and signalled their wish for additional types of schools to reflect parents’ rights. CORI welcomes the Minister for Education’s introduction of the additional model of patronage for Community National Schools.
5.0. CRITICAL ISSUES
In recognising new primary schools CORI considers it critical that the following issues be taken into consideration:
5.01 Parental choice
The criteria for the recognition of new schools must respect the ‘continuing desire of parents for denominational education’ as indicated in the 1998 Report of the Steering Group of the Commission on School Accommodation. This was also demonstrated in the key findings of the first all-Ireland survey of parents entitled “Factors Determining School Choice”. (Council for Research and Development of the Irish Episcopal Conference, 2008).
A Red C poll of parents in March 2008 on behalf of the Iona Institute found that 49% of parents favoured Catholic schools for their children.
A similar Red C poll in June 2009 showed that 73% of parents want a choice of school, including Church run schools, and only 26% of parents want all publicly-funded schools to be State run.
5.02. Provision for Diversity
In new areas of residential development where Catholic Primary Schools are required by the Community, it would be a breach of the Education Act (Section 10) not to make such provision. A pluralist society respects the rights of different religions and cultures to exist within the legal structures of the State. There is a place for Faith Communities to establish faith-based schools provided parents so desire. One advantage of Ireland’s singular system of education is that it “has avoided the excesses of the rigid imposition of a state ideology in education” (Dympna Glendenning, in her book Religion, Education and the Law, (Dublin: Tottel, 2008) p.300).
5.03. Developing areas
Based on the increase of 218,840 in the Catholic population indicated in the census it is clear that the current stock of primary schools will be inadequate in the foreseeable future. New Catholic primary schools will be required in areas of population growth if consultation with parents and the local community shows that this is desirable and that the agreement of the local bishop to act as patron is also procured.
5.04. New patronage models
Where new patronage models are considered appropriate these must respect the rights of Catholic parents. A Catholic community must always have the right to establish a Catholic school. Faith communities in Ireland have made it clear that a common religious education syllabus that is deemed to be ‘neutral’ is totally unacceptable. Public debate and widespread consultation on the future of education is very desirable in view of the challenges now facing the system.
5.05. Equal regard for different Patrons
While committed to Catholic education CORI is supportive of other forms and models of patronage so as to ensure choice and diversity in the Irish educational system. It is critically important that procedures emanating from the current review will be published and will apply, and be seen to apply, to all patron bodies equally. This is necessary to allay concerns that a two-tier system had begun to emerge. All patrons of new schools must comply with the NSAC procedures. A two-tier approach cannot be justified and must be avoided in future. It is essential that a uniform set of published criteria apply equally in the case of all new schools.
An Bórd Snip Nua proposals in relation to drastic reductions in the number of primary schools has given rise to real fear in rural communities where the local primary school can be the social and community centre. Any proposal about the establishment of a new primary school should be discussed with the parents of the prospective pupils, the parents and staff of existing schools, the wider community and the patrons of existing schools. All relevant information should be shared widely. As outlined in the foreword of the 2002 Report of the Steering Group on School Accommodation collaborative rather than competitive decision-making will better serve the outcome.
5.07. Use of Reliable and Comprehensive Data
If the final decision in an area is to establish a new school, extend an existing one or amalgamate a number of smaller schools, it must be informed by factual information, properly assembled and evaluated. These ‘facts’ will include up-to-date statistical information from the Department of Education and Science and the Central Statistics Office in relation to birth rate, demographics, existing and projected enrolments, population density and staffing.
5.08. Effective & efficient use of resources.
To be effective, all schools must be appropriately resourced. Regardless of patronage, additional provision must be made for pupils who are economically or socially disadvantaged or who have ‘special needs’. The current inadequate capitation grant to primary schools must be increased to realistic levels if new schools (and indeed established ones) are to be in a position to serve the needs of pupils. In the interests of equity and justice there must be an equalisation of grants and staffing as between regular schools and Gaelscoileanna.
On the face of it, the closure of a number of small schools in favour of a larger single school makes economic sense; however, the increased cost of transport, the hardship to very young pupils and the loss to the local community of a focal point must also be considered.
Even if under the same patron, the administrative difficulties of a multi-school campus make such an arrangement undesirable. A multi-school building would create totally unacceptable administrative conditions.
Resources are being wasted by the proliferation of temporary accommodation in primary schools. New provision must be in permanent accommodation if value for money is to be assured.
5.09. Lease and Ethos
The relationship between the Patron and the Minister for Education is defined in the lease. The position of the Lease must be regularised as a re-requisite to a patron taking responsibility for a new school. The ‘Deed of Variation’ provided that a school under Catholic patronage would be managed in accordance with the rules of the Minister for Education and in accordance with Catholic ethos. The Minister unilaterally stopped signing the Deed of Variation in 2004. This action raises serious questions of trust and therefore about the reliability of future agreements.
Both short and long time planning are essential. It should be a requirement of planning permission for housing developments that school and other infrastructure provision be included. The lack of inter-departmental communication amongst Government departments and with local authorities in relation to planning results in wasteful use of resources. A multi-disciplinary approach is essential.
5.11. Political Will.
The best efforts of patrons and local management are frustrated and the whole educational process is being exposed to serious challenge by the dearth of political will to publish a revised version of the Rules for National Schools, commence provision for implementation of the Special Educational Needs Act (2004)