Educate Together urged members to support minister
A MULTI-denominational body won its long-running battle to run second-level schools after warning its members not to "blindside" Education Minister Ruairi Quinn with awkward questions.
Educate Together was granted official government recognition on Saturday and will now apply to run up to 20 post-primary schools due to be built over the next seven years.
The Irish Independent has learned that Educate Together was issued with a circular in the run-up to a meeting between Mr Quinn and the group at the weekend.
In the circular, head of communications John Holohan urged Educate Together members to "grasp this opportunity and come along" and "show your support" for Mr Quinn.
He said the intention was not to "blindside" Mr Quinn with "on-the-spot questions he may not be able to answer" during the annual meeting.
"We want as big a turnout as possible to illustrate that Educate Together supports his ministry and is fully behind the much-needed reform he is championing in our education system," he added.
The message was sent four days before Mr Quinn's announcement at the weekend.
The schools group will now focus its attention on winning a Department of Education selection process to decide where new second-level schools will open.
Educate Together, which already runs 58 primary schools, will apply to run some or all of those.
Educate Together has strong support from parents to provide second-level education in Drogheda, Wicklow, north and west Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick.
The selection of patrons for the new schools will take account of the changing social landscape due to the influx of migrants and a fall away from religious practice among traditional Irish families.
Traditionally, the religious orders have been the dominant force in second-level education and control over 400 of the 730 post-primary schools.
There are also 250 schools run by Vocational Education Committees (VECs) and 91 community and comprehensive schools.
The recognition now being given to Educate Together represents the biggest change in the second-level education landscape since the early 1970s.
Although Educate Together runs only a small number of the country's 3,200 primary schools, it has been growing rapidly in recent years.
It opened its first primary school in 1978 and applied for recognition at second level in 2007.
It was disappointed last year not to be selected to run the new post-primary school opening in Gorey, Co Wexford, this September.
The widening of patronage at second level comes on top of plans for the Catholic Church to divest some of the 92pc of primary schools that it controls to other patrons.
Mr Quinn, who made a pre-election promise to grant recognition to Educate Together, announced the decision at the organisation's annual meeting in Gorey at the weekend.