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New move to make more Catholic primary schools multi-denominational


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More Catholic primary schools are set to become multi-denominational under a plan worked out between the Department of Education and bishops.

Several towns and areas of cities, where there is no multi-denominational provision, are earmarked for a new initiative to change the ethos of some Catholic primary schools.

As well as parts of Dublin, Cork and Limerick and Galway towns selected for the pilot project are Arklow, Athlone, Dundalk and Youghal.

Nine in 10 of the country’s 3,200 primary schools are Catholic and, despite a decade-old policy to create more diversity, progress has been slow.

But there is a fresh push on to transfer more Catholic schools to other patrons to meet the needs of modern Irish society by giving parents more choice in relation to the ethos of their local school.

Co Tipperary will open its first community national school in September, after agreement on transferring the patronage of Saint Mary’s Junior Boys’ School, Nenagh, from the Bishop of Killaloe to the local education and training board (ETB).

It will bring to 13 the number of primary schools that have been established under the patronage divesting process, all of which have a multi-denominational ethos.

Eleven – 12 from September – are now community national schools, under the patronage ETBs. One is a Gaelscoil under the patronage of An Foras Pátrúnachta, offering a choice of an ethics and morality programme or a Catholic programme.

A department spokesperson said it had been engaging with representative of the bishops with a view to developing an agreed approach to the next phase of the schools’ reconfiguration process.

The department said the bishops had confirmed their willingness to engage and co-operate fully in seeking to facilitate a more diverse school patronage in these towns and cities.

The spring 2022 general meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference is taking place this week and divestment of primary schools is among the issues up for discussion.

A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference said they would like to move as quickly as possible to a situation in which the State supported parents with the provision of schools whose ethos genuinely reflected what they wanted for their children.

“Going forward, bishops wish to have a fruitful dialogue about the best way of ensuring that our school system reflects a diversity of provision,” the spokesperson added.

A statement confirming details of the new arrangement  is likely this week. The first step in the process will see bishops engaging with local school communities.

The bishops’ spokesperson said they were very conscious that any move to divest must involve a meaningful engagement at local level, supported by the Department of Education, with parents, teachers and the wider parish communities.

“Parental choice is paramount, and that choice must be given full expression in any reconfiguration process,” the spokesperson said.

Moves to transfer patronage of an existing Catholic school has previously met with local resistance in some areas, most recently in Malahide-Portmarnock in north Dublin, in 2019.

That controversy was triggered by a move to switch one of eight Catholic primary schools in the area to a new patron, which had to be abandoned. No school had been selected, but school communities were vociferous in their opposition.

Elsewhere, progress has been made under an “Early Movers” provision of the process which enables school communities that have already decided to seek a transfer of patronage to engage with their school patron on the matter.

Overall, the Government is committed to increasing the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools with a view to reaching 400 by 2030. The 400 figure includes existing multi-denominational schools.

Overwhelmingly, new schools are multi-denominational in ethos. Since 2011, 103 new primary and post-primary schools have been established to cater for population growth, 97 of which have a multi-denominational ethos.

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