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Setback in efforts to make more Catholic primary schools multi-denominational


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Moves to transfer more Catholic primary schools to a multi-denominational ethos have suffered another setback.

A controversial plan to hand over one of three schools in the Dublin suburb of Raheny has been abandoned.

The Raheny proposal has run into the ground following strong opposition from parents and school staff, and lack of support from boards of management.

It was one of a number of similar projects under the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity Pilot Initiative initiated around the country over the past year, in a bid to broaden choice for parents and pupils.

Currently 89pc of primary schools are Catholic, and bishops are collaborating with Department of Education efforts to reduce that dominance.

Under the reconfiguration initiative, school communities, including parents, staff and boards of management are consulted and their views are crucial to shaping the final outcome.

An official report to the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Dermot Farrell said, however, that the “Raheny schools should be retained as they are currently configured.”

Former Department of Education inspector Don Mahon, who was appointed to facilitate the process, concluded that the “process has not provided either the evidential basis or across-community agreement for a change in the configuration”.

He said: “It did not prove possible throughout the engagement process to get the different sides to engage in positive discussions that might have yielded outcomes suitable for both sides.”

Mr Mahon found the majority of parents were on the side of retaining the schools as they are, and the minority on the side of transferring one of the schools to multi-denominational patronage.

According to his report, “it became difficult for parents and staff members who were in favour of multi-denominational patronage to have their views heard”.

The three schools are a co-educational junior school, Naiscoil Ide, that runs to second class, feeding into two single sex senior schools, Scoil Assaim and Scoil Aine, all under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin.

In a comment on the meeting with parents from Scoil Assaim, Mr Mahon described it as “challengnig”.

“The parents who spoke appeared to do so from entrenched positions. Views were expressed strongly in favour of maintaining the status quo,” he said.

“There was opposition to the notion that the majority who wanted to continue with Catholic education should facilitate the wishes of what might be a substantial minority to have a multi-denominational school in Raheny.

“Despite the meeting going on for more than two hours, many parents in the room did not get the opportunity to speak.”

Mr Mahon also reported that “there seemed to be deep-rooted opposition to change – change to co-education and/or change to multi-denominational education, and a lack of willingness to consider how the preferences of a minority of parents might be accommodated”.

Mr Mahon said that “the process was troubled by suspicions and lack of trust from an early stage” with a lot of parents “fearful that there was a hidden agenda that had not been shared with them”.

He said the initiative seemed to “give rise to considerable unease and anxiety among the school community, which may have contributed to individuals adopting entrenched positions and unwillingness to consider other views”.

He reported that “some parents also indicated that there was no clarity about what lay in store for the schools, if they were to agree to a transfer of patronage, for example, who the new patron would be”.

Moves to reduce the dominance of the Catholic Church in primary education have been under consideration for more than decade, but with little success.

The Programme for Government commits to having at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030, an increase from 5pc of 13pc.

Nine in 10 (89pc) of more than 3,100 primary schools remain Catholic and, since 2012, only about a dozen schools have transferred from Catholic patronage.

In a bid to invigorate the process, last year Education Minster Norma Foley announced the appointment of facilitators to help communities consider any such move and arrive at a final decision.

The focus of the reconfiguration initiative is on towns and areas of cities that currently have little or no multi-denominational provision.

While the Catholic Church is collaborating with the Department in areas in Dublin, Cork and Galway, as well as Arklow, Athlone, Dundalk, Limerick and Youghal, Raheny is not the only place where there is opposition.

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