DES Demands Educate Together Schools Downsize and Turn Away Families - in Breach of Department’s Own Recommendations and Policies

Educate Together has raised serious concerns with the Department of Education and Skills (DES) in relation to the restriction of pupil intake of equality-based Educate Together national schools opened between 2014 and 2016 under the Government’s school patronage divestment process. 

Recently received correspondence from the DES to Tramore ETNS, New Ross ETNS and Trim ETNS stated that they must each adhere strictly to a ½ stream intake of 13 junior infants for the 2018/19 school year. Similar information was communicated to Tuam ETNS and Castlebar ETNS earlier in 2017. This correspondence requires the schools to now limit their enrolment of Junior Infant students in September 2018 to 13 pupils, requiring them to turn away families who wish to avail of an equality-based education for their children.

This recent correspondence outlines a new policy of the patronage divesting process as ‘enabling diversity of provision in an area where there is no demographic imperative to establish a school, however, the intention is that the establishment of a divested school does not adversely affect existing primary schools in the area.’ Educate Together considers that this directly contradicts the policy in which the schools opened, (which originated through the Forum of Patronage and Pluralism), which sought to identify areas where schools should be transferred through amalgamation and closures. 

Educate Together agreed to open these schools on the basis of their long-term viability as full stream developing schools. In the case of each school the Forum of Patronage and Pluralism reports (see attached) recommended that "Taking account of likely long-term requirements, accommodation options for a full stream of provision should be considered.”

All five of these Educate Together schools have gone from strength to strength over the past number of years, and the majority have demonstrated pre-enrolment numbers for 2018/19 to accommodate a full stream. These school communities have expressed shock and deep frustrations at the prescribed barriers to further development being applied by the DES. These schools are now effectively being told to turn away large numbers of families who will not now be able to access the equality-based education they had hoped for their children. 

The five Educate Together national schools opened between 2014 and 2016 under the Government’s school patronage divestment process, with the stated aim to provide more choice and diversity in the Irish primary school system. The effect of this policy decision shines a light on the State’s ability to address the serious violation of rights of children and parents in Ireland, and it’s commitment to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools in Ireland to 400 by the year 2030. 

The DES is now retrospectively seeking to change the basis upon which Educate Together agreed to proceed on - and to impose a restriction that violates the lawful preference of a significant numbers families in these areas. Educate Together has written to the DES asking for clarification on what statutory or constitutional basis the Department is now retrospectively proposing these changes. 

Educate Together awaits a response from the Department of Education.