What is school patronage?
Every school in Ireland has what is known as a 'patron'. The patron is the body that establishes the school, appoints the Board of Management and directs the 'ethos' of the school. For instance, where Educate Together is patron, the ethos of the school is 'equality-based' - no child is discriminated against on the basis of their social, cultural or religious background in either access to the school or within the classroom during the school day. You can read more about Educate Together's unique equality-based ethos here.
How many school patrons are there?
In Ireland, there are a number of different school patrons operating primary and second-level schools. Currently, 96% of schools have religious patrons - and in 94% of schools the patron is the Catholic Church.
Why does this matter?
Because, with the decrease in number of practising Catholics amongst the population as evidenced by the increase in non-religious marriages, it is obvious that the provision of religious-run schools far outstrips demand. More and more families want to send their children to schools that reflect their worldview and the modern Irish society that they live in. For these families, the near monopoly of religious-run schools presents a number of problems.
In cases where the Catholic Church is patron of a school, a child can be refused admission if they do not possess a baptism certificate. Furthermore, while a child in a religious-run school may 'opt out' of faith formation, she/he is exposed on a daily basis to religious iconography, prayers and hymns and on a regular basis to assemblies that mark religious festivals as well as lessons which integrate preparation for the sacraments. No parent wants their child to be left out in this way. Bear in mind, these are state-supported schools, funded by the taxpayer.
So what has the Government done about it?
Well, in 2011 the Government began a programme to create more diversity and inclusiveness in the primary school system. Recommendations were made for Catholic primary schools in 25 areas around Ireland to transfer patronage to Educate Together. Since then, just a handful of Educate Together schools have opened up under this process. And over six years later, families in 16 areas are still waiting for the Educate Together schools they were promised by the Government. At the same time, demand for equality-based education offered by Educate Together has skyrocketed all over Ireland.
Where do we stand in 2017?
In January 2017, the Government proposed a new 'reconfiguration' process to speed up the transfer of religious-run schools in order to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools available. The overall aim of this plan is to create more diversity and inclusiveness in the primary school system. But the proposed plan is bad news for many parents and their children.
Read about why the plan is flawed here, and read what you can do to amend the plan to bring about real change in Irish education.
If you live in one of the 16 towns still waiting for its Educate Together national school and would like to campaign for your school, get in touch with us at the link below.
- Passage West