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.

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.