Parents of pre-school children now being surveyed about school patronage
The latest move to reduce Catholic Church control of primary education is under way, with parents of pre-school children being surveyed about school choice.
Parents in 16 areas or towns are being asked whether they want control of a local Catholic school to transfer to a non-religious patron.
These are locations where there are deemed to be enough schools, but an absence of diversity in patron type.
The surveys will be completed within a fortnight and where there is demand for change, the local bishop will be asked to engage in discussions about a handover.
Assessing support for a change of ethos is not the only focus - the surveys will also elicit views on whether parents want one of their local schools to become a Gaelscoil.
This is the second attempt to act on the recommendation of a 2012 report for change of patronage of some of the 90pc of Catholic-controlled primary schools. The previous initiative saw only about 10 schools changing hands.
Education Minister Richard Bruton said the new process would draw on the lessons from the previous model, such as the importance of live transfers and the downsides of having to await school closures or amalgamations.
At this stage, parents are not being asked to identify or vote for an alternative patron of choice - only whether they want a multi-denominational/non-denominational school and, if so, whether it should also be Irish-medium.
The process, known as Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity, is being led by local education and training boards (ETB), although the surveys are being conducted by city and county childcare committees, which operate under the Department of Children.
Each ETB selected a town or area within its region where it felt there was a desire for greater school choice. Surveys in other areas will follow.
All parents/guardians of children in the Early Childhood Care and Education programme - approximately 95pc of three to five year olds in each of the areas - will be offered the opportunity to participate.
The 16 areas are: Athlone, Co Westmeath; parts of Dublin 1; Tullow, Co Carlow; Kinsale, Co Cork; Laytown/Bettystown/Mornington/Donacarney, Co Meath; Athenry, Co Galway; Kenmare/Sneem, Co Kerry; Skerries, Co Dublin; Claremorris, Co Mayo; Ballybofey/Stranorlar, Co Donegal; Ennis, Co Clare; Roscrea, Co Tipperary; Waterford city; Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan; Bray, Co Wicklow; Edenderry, Co Offaly.
The surveys represent the identification phase. The next stage will be the implementation phase, involving, initially, an analysis of the results by each ETB and a report for the Department of Education, which will be published.
Where demand for change exists, the survey results will form the basis of discussions with the most prevalent patron/landowner in the area - the Catholic bishop in most cases - concerning the transfer of a school, followed by a public meeting of parents to consider the choices.
The department has also confirmed that, independent of the process, there are three to four primary schools currently under Catholic patronage which have set moves in train for a direct transfer to another patron, an option open to any school community.