Sunday 21 January 2018

Community national schools are gaining traction with parents

In my opinion... Michael Moriarty

Jan O'Sullivan
Jan O'Sullivan
Michael Moriarty

In August, former education minister Ruairi Quinn published an article in this newspaper which argued for the divestment of significantly more Catholic primary schools in order to provide for the transfer of patronage to new patrons so as to meet the demand for diversity in the community.

In the subsequent media debate, the multi-faith community national schools (CNS) operated by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) were largely ignored, and yet these schools offer local communities a really good school model which broadly reflects the local diversity of community cultures and faiths.

Through the ETBs the State has provided for diversity at second level for many years and is now doing the same at primary level. ETBs have a long tradition in providing multi-denominational education and they are committed to the development of the community national school model.

This month, two new community national schools opened in Carrigtohill, Co Cork and Greystones, Co Wicklow to be operated by Cork ETB and Kildare Wicklow ETB, respectively.

ETBs welcomed the local parental choice of the community national school as the preferred model.

For her part, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan expressed the view that both schools would optimise parental choice and strengthen diversity of provision in their local catchment areas. These schools join existing community national schools located in these counties, as well as in Dublin and Meath.

Community national schools are child-centred, inclusive, multi-belief, State-supported schools offering high-quality primary education.

They reflect the diversity of Ireland in the 21st century and cater for children of all faiths and beliefs.

Respect for the plurality of faiths in the local community is balanced with an equal respect for those of no specific faith. Celebration of diversity is a core value of the community national schools.

The unique religious education programme - Goodness Me Goodness You - is an ethical and moral education programme where all pupils together learn about themselves and their world while also teaching them to respect diversity and difference.

Local communities are increasingly becoming religiously and culturally diversified.

The community national schools seek to reflect that diversity by recognising the wishes of some parents to have faith formation classes in a particular faith.

To reflect that particular parental demand, there are certain periods in the school year where some children will form into different faith groups for faith formation, but also a group for non-faith, all in accordance with the wishes of their parents.

In this way, children can be prepared for the Christian sacraments or other faith celebrations.

The community national schools therefore collaborate with their local communities to reflect the different traditions and values that form the community mix.

Children who live together in the local community learn together in the local community national school. Tolerance and respect for all traditions is a core value of the school ethos.

Respect for plurality of faiths is seen as integral to the daily routine of the school.

These schools seek to create quality learning opportunities in a setting of diversity and inclusion.

The multi-denominational, multi-belief community national school is gaining traction and will be actively promoted by ETBI and member ETBs where demand for diversity in school patronage becomes evident. After all, meeting the needs of the local community is what ETBs are about.

Michael Moriarty is general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland

Irish Independent

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