Church won't hand over schools without extensive consultation
THE Catholic Church is insisting on an extensive consultation process with parents before it starts to hand over some of its schools.
The church made its position clear last night after the Department of Education published a list of areas where there are too many Catholic schools for the population.
The publication of the list is the latest development in a long saga which will eventually change the face of Irish education. It will mean a reduced, but still significant, role for the church in primary schools.
The department has identified 10 areas that could be looked at initially -- four are in Dublin and six are in small and mid-sized towns around the country.
The six were selected at random from a longer list of 43 towns where the provision of schools is exclusively Catholic or where there is very limited diversity at present.
The six are Arklow, Co Wicklow; Athlone, Co Westmeath; Ballinasloe, Co Galway; Birr, Co Offaly; Killarney, Co Kerry; and Tramore, Co Waterford.
In addition, the department listed four areas of the capital where no new schools will be needed in the medium term and where the population is relatively stable. They are: Dublin 4; Dublin 6 and 8; Portmarnock/Malahide; and Whitehall.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan said the decision about which schools would be divested rested with the bishops, as patrons, after consultation with parents and staff.
Church sources feared last night that the listing of the 10 areas would spark fears of imminent closures. The Bishops' Council for Education said no particular school listed on the department's document- ation was being prioritised as a candidate for divesting.
The council set down three requirements before progress can be made. The first is a transparent process of consultation. The second is the clear definition of key terms such as denominational, non-denominational and multi-denominational schooling.
"It is often suggested that multi-denominational schools are more diverse, plural and inclusive. However, many denominational schools (Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist) have in fact been leaders in embracing social diversity," Catholic Schools Partnership chairman Fr Michael Drumm said.
The third requirement is an internal church reflection on the nature and scope of Catholic schools and education for the next generation. This will involve consultation with patrons, trustees, parents, students, parish pastoral councils, boards of management and Catholic colleges of education.
Publication of the list was welcomed by Paul Rowe, Educate Together's CEO, who said the 43 areas identified by the department matched those for which Educate Together had demand for both new and additional school places.
"Educate Together would be happy to hold constructive dialogue with the Department of Education and the Catholic Church to facilitate patronage transfer where local parents are in favour of it," he said.