Community National Schools

Educate Together on the Two Mile National School announcement: parents in Killarney have been let down

Educate Together has expressed disappointment and concern at the announcement today of the transfer of a Catholic school to Kerry ETB to re-open as a Community National School.

When the Government’s school reconfiguration plans were announced by Minister Bruton in January 2017, Educate Together raised concerns that they gave undue influence to the Catholic Church and left families who are campaigning for equality-based schools with no real voice in the process. Educate Together put these concerns to Department of Education officials directly at a meeting on 5th April 2017, published them online (www.educatetogether.net) and issued press statements outlining the case. Today’s announcement on the transfer of a Catholic school to Kerry ETB to re-open as a Community National School vindicates Educate Together’s concerns.

Following parental surveys in 2013, Killarney was one of 25 areas around Ireland where parents were promised an Educate Together national school by the Government under the ‘divestment’ plan - a process devised to bring about more diversity and inclusiveness in the primary school system. Educate Together has been engaging with parents in the Killarney area for four years with a view to establishing an Educate Together school in the town. In 2017, interest levels among parents for an Educate Together school remain high. Educate Together has also actively engaged with the Department of Education to establish a school in Killarney, having proposed various viable school accommodation options for the Department to investigate. Indeed, when it became aware that the school in Two Mile was closing, Educate Together suggested the very school building, in October 2016 and again in March 2017. Instead, the Department is now sanctioning a Community National School. 

Educate Together expressed concerns earlier this year that the Government’s reconfiguration plan lacked high standards of transparency and equality in that all stakeholders were not fairly represented or consulted in the process. These concerns have now been validated. Today the Department stated that a local meeting was held in March organised by the “Two Mile Community Group". The meeting was attended by over 70 members of the local community and an ‘independent vote’ was held to allow Two Mile / Cahooreigh NS to be made available as a Community National School. The transfer was signed off by Ray Browne, Bishop of Kerry - representing the Diocese of Kerry, the current patron of the school.

  • At no point were parents seeking an Educate Together school in the area consulted.
  • At no point was Educate Together asked to express an interest in becoming patron of the school. 
  • At no point was Educate Together invited by the Department of Education to make a case for a prospective Educate Together patronage to the local community.

Educate Together - and others - expressed concerns that the reconfiguration plan gave the Catholic Church undue influence on education. This is because current patrons - mostly Catholic bishops -have the final say in whether schools are transferred - and, crucially, to whom. Today we are seeing the transfer of a Catholic school to the Kerry ETB to re-open under the ETB’s patronage as a Community National School. This is despite parents clearly expressing a preference for an Educate Together school when objectively surveyed by the DES in 2012. 

Commenting on the announcement, Educate Together CEO Paul Rowe said: 

“Today’s announcement is disappointing for parents in Killarney, who have been let down. It is also of serious concern to all of us who who have been working towards real reform and reconfiguration of the primary school system over many years. What is needed now is a complete review of the Minister’s proposed process for reconfiguration. The state needs to take control of this process so that the needs of local communities - not Bishops or religious orders - are central and so that real change can happen nationwide.”

Educate Together is now calling for a full reassessment of Richard Bruton’s ‘reconfiguration’ process and that a new process be formulated that considers the wishes of families, rather than Church interests. Educate Together’s detailed proposals can be read online: www.educatetogether.net

Educate Together Challenges Flawed Reconfiguration Plan; Demands Transparency, Fairness and Equality

Educate Together, having considered Minister Bruton’s announcement to speed up the reconfiguration of religious-run schools to other patrons, is today challenging the process as both unfair and unworkable in its current form. Educate Together is proposing an alternative plan that will put parental wishes where they should be: at the centre of the process.  

Educate Together challenges the process on the following grounds: 

1) The proposed plan is not a fair or transparent one as the state agencies charged with running the selection process - the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) - also have a vested direct interest in the process in that they they are patrons of Community National Schools (CNS) and have clear and stated ambitions to grow that number.

2) Community National Schools are the preferred model of the Catholic Church and the Education Minister. The Church has previously indicated that it favours divesting to this model, as CNS schools will still prepare pupils for sacraments during the school day. Minister Richard Bruton TD also recently endorsed the school model, stating that “the philosophy of the Community National School as a multi-denominational school is based on international best practice in this area”. Educate Together has asked upon which international evidence such a statement can be made.

3) The proposed plan seems to be designed to facilitate the handover of religious-schools to ETB-run schools in return for payment. It proposes a role for existing patrons or the trusts or individuals behind them who are the original landowners in deciding which patron would take over the running of a school. This gives these bodies a disproportionate influence over the process and is a denial of the fundamental democratic rights of parents.

4) The proposed plan does not prioritise the wishes of parents of pre-school children nor parents of children in existing schools in deciding the reassignment of schools. Rather it prioritises the wishes of the Church and the ETBs. The wishes of parents must be central to any approach to addressing the need for change. 

5) Educate Together, which has nearly 40 years’ experience in providing equality-based education throughout Ireland and specific expertise in transferring school patronage, was not consulted on the current proposal.

6) Educate Together now has thousands of parents seeking places in its equality-based schools. It currently has no mechanism whereby this demand can be met in established areas of the country. The proposed mechanism does not provide a realistic or credible route for us to satisfy this demand.

An alternative plan

Educate Together has proposed a systemic solution to the needs for diversity in the Irish education system. This involves the State contacting the parents of all 3 year old children and seeking their first second and third preference for primary school. This could be achieved by a confidential online process aligned with the child benefit data. The Statewould then, for the first time in its history, know the true profile of parental demand for schools of different types and could then allocate places and resources accordingly.

Until such a system is in place, solutions to the long-standing human rights deficits in the structure of the Irish education system will not be achievable.

Educate Together also calls for immediate progress on the remaining 17 areas that have been allocated for new Educate Together schools since 2013 under the previous divestment process. 

In the interests of the many thousands of parents campaigning for alternatives to existing school provision, Educate Together challenging the process as outlined by the Minister today and demands a process that is transparent, fair and modelled to provide true equality.

Fianna Fail: Securing The Future?

Whilst there is much in Fianna Fáil’s education manifesto, Securing The Future to be welcomed, the party’s proposal to increase plurality in school provision is to further rollout the problematic Community National School (CNS) model. 

Community National Schools were first opened in 2007 by Fianna Fáil’s Minister for Education Mary Hanafin TD. These schools were designed in close partnership with Catholic Church authorities. Existing Community National Schools, some of which have been in existence since 2008, are not sufficiently transparent. There is also uncertainty surrounding the democratic nature of the schools. This model of education is at best problematic and at worst damaging. While paying lip-service to inclusion, the model in practice supports the segregation of children along religious lines during the school day.

Fianna Fáil’s claim that the model is ‘highly successful’ is dubious and its pledge to extend the model is worrying. Educate Together has established a model of education that is truly inclusive. Parents around the country are clamouring for equality-based Educate Together schools for their children.

Divestment and progress on education equality

Fianna Fáil rightly recognises the need for diversity of patronage and divestment in the party’s manifesto: 

“We believe that divestment and increasing diversity in school patronage is essential and we will engage with all education partners to energise this process.”

True, the divestment process has been disappointing and there remains 19 areas across Ireland that still wait for their ‘divested’ school. The tax-paying families in these areas were promised equality-based Educate Together schools by the State in 2013 and that commitment must be honoured. 

Fianna Fáil’s claim that “the overwhelming focus on the long-term process of patronage divestment by the government has distracted from the more essential and immediately relevant question of how children from nonreligious backgrounds should be accommodated within the present structures” fudges the issue of equality in education. Families should not rely on the benevolence of a Church in which they have no belief and no stake to supply them with school places. Children should not be admitted to their local schools under sufferance, as outsiders to the ‘mainstream’. These children, be they Muslim, Hindu, non-religious, are not outsiders. They are citizens of the Republic and must be welcomed to a school that recognises and celebrates all the richness of diversity they bring. 

Equalisation of funding

Educate Together welcomes Fianna Fáil’s commitment to implementing a gradual equalisation of funding for voluntary secondary schools so that their funding begins to approach that granted to ETBs and community/comprehensive schools. This will benefit the children in such schools whose education should be funded on an equal basis. 

The removal of the cap on the expansion of the DEIS programme and enhanced investment in DEIS schools is a move towards equalising opportunity for all children as is the restoration of the Visiting Teacher Service for Travellers. EAL supports are vital in helping non-English speaking children settle and FF commit to revise the allocation criteria for EAL posts. Educate Together believes that investment and funding must be radically increased to provide proper supports for children with additional needs. All children deserve an equal chance 

Conclusion

The Fianna Fáil manifesto does not meet the urgency of investment and innovation that is needed in the education system. Our education system is underfunded. Addressing this is the key to our economic and social future. There should be a cross party consensus that investment in our schools, radically improving the funds available to boards and principals on the ground, providing balanced choice of schools so that all children are guaranteed equality of access and respect and improving the learning environment for all children are all absolute priorities for the next Programme for Government, whatever party forms it.