Primary education 'out of sync with our needs'
THE structure of primary education is out of sync with the educational choices of the population, according to multi-denominational patron Educate Together.
It said that only 2pc of schools offered an alternative to the long-established Catholic or Protestant model.
The schools organisation made the claim ahead of an historic debate on who controls primary schools, which will take place in the Dail on Thursday.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan will kick off the discussion on the future governance of the country's 3,200 primary schools.
It comes shortly before her department lists 10 areas where the Catholic Church could consider handing over some of its schools to other patrons.
The opposition is expected to press for early decisions on the future governance of schools.
At the weekend, the head of Educate Together, Paul Rowe, said: "We have a system in which 98pc of schools are denominational, 92pc Catholic, 6pc Protestant, and with less than 2pc offering an alternative. However, even taking the most conservative survey of parents' attitudes, one commissioned by the Catholic Church itself in 2008, only 58pc of parents expressed support for the continued church management of schools.
"It is now widely recognised that our system must change to provide greater choice for the benefit of all providers."
He said that three-quarters of new schools should be along the Educate Together model.
Educate Together runs 56 primary schools nationwide. It has applied for second-level patronage for schools in Waterford and Gorey as well as in Lucan.
The patron body would formally offer to facilitate the transfer of Catholic schools to such a model were it asked to do so by school communities.
Mr Rowe would like to see the number of Educate Together primary schools increase to 100 and see three post-primary schools open by 2014, he told the organisation's annual general meeting.
He said it was time to act on the introduction of real choice in school provision through a significant increase in the availability of multi-denominational schools.
Educate Together said it would be happy to work with the department to help effect the broadening of choice that parents were loudly and consistently calling for.
"The Tanaiste has a real opportunity to be a strong advocate for change in Irish education. We are heartened by her comments on taking office in relation to the Government's continued commitment to and investment in education.
"We in Educate Together are willing to assist in the implementation of long overdue reforms which are urgently required to transform the Irish education sector," Mr Rowe said.