Primary patronage 'could be shared'
A new style of primary school involving partnerships between the Catholic Church and local education boards has been signalled as a way of introducing more choice for parents.
It would mirror what happens in almost 150 community schools and community colleges at second-level, where religious bodies and local education boards are joint trustees.
But it would be ground-breaking at primary level, where, with a few exceptions, schools have an individual patron.
Significantly, the idea was mooted yesterday by Fr Michael Drumm, chairperson of the Catholic Schools' Partnership, during an address at the annual conference of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI).
It could play a role in the debate about the loosening the Catholic Church's grip on primary education, realisation of which has been very slow.
ETBS, which took over the role of VECs, entered the primary arena some years ago and now operates 11 community national schools (CNS).
These schools are in areas of population growth rather than in long-established communities, where efforts to divest Catholic schools are focused and where the possibility of joint trusteeships could arise.
Speaking yesterday, Fr Drumm referred to partnerships at second-level and said "you could have mirror structures at primary.
"There are already models of joint patronage at primary. Catholic and Protestant bodies are joint patrons in a small number of schools.
"So there is any amount of models: patronage is adaptable. It should not be perceived to be 'it's just this way'. Patrons can share with other patrons."
He said he didn't have "worked-out plan" but there was potential to look at this in the context of the amalgamation of small schools.
ETBI secretary Michael Moriarty welcomed the idea and said community national schools could offer the "optimum alternative" as a partner with a school currently under Catholic patronage, "as they provide for faith formation classes during the school day, while respecting the wishes of all categories of parents."
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan told the conference that she wanted to rejuvenate the divestment process and would be having talks with patron bodies shortly.
While she did not comment on the idea of possible patronage partnerships, she praised the community national school model and said Educate Together "are not the only ones engaged in delivering greater diversity amongst our schools."