Thursday 23 November 2017

Four new multi-denominational schools set to open - reducing church dominance in education

Katherine Donnelly, Education Editor

Four new multi-denominational schools will open this September as part of process to reduce the dominance of the churches in education.

And, a fifth new multi-denominational school, which opened in temporary premises last September, will transfer to a former Christian Brothers school in the neighbourbood.

The new schools will open in Malahide, Co Dublin, Trim, Co Meath, Tramore, Co Waterford and Ballina, Co Mayo, under the umbrella of Educate Together.

Meanwhile, the newly-established Portobello Educate Together in Dublin’s south inner city will take over the former Scoil San Seamus, Basin Lane, which has amalgamated with the local girls’ school.

The schools in Malahide, Trim and Tramore are opening as a result of negotiations with the Catholic Church on property, although in no case does it involve the  amalgamation existing schools to free up a premises, for which Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was hoping..

While permanent buildings are not yet available  in these three areas, Mr Quinn has given the go-ahead for the schools in temporary start-up accommodation in order to meet parental demand for greater choice.

In Malahide, it has been agreed that the new school will open in temporary accommodation provided by Holywell education Together, while options for Tramore and Trim are being considered.

“Discussions are continuing to take place with the main Catholic patrons in these and in a number of other areas to identify and secure permanent accommodation.

 The engagement with patrons so far has been open and generous. I am sure that with the co-operation of all concerned and with the support of my Department, further progress can be achieved,” he said.

The planned transfer of a Church of Ireland school, Newtownwhite N.S., Ballysokerry , Ballina,  to Educate Together  follows the agreement of the Church of Ireland Bishop and local parents to a change of patronage.

Discussions are continuing on process of divesting church schools to other patron bodies in September 2015.

The Catholic Church runs about 90pc of primary schools and the minister has overseen a process of identifying areas where there is a demand from parents for more choice.

The Department of Education’s work has been concentrated on areas were the local primary schools are exclusively or overwhelmingly under the control of the Catholic Church.

The focus has been on towns and suburbs with stable populations, where there is no possibility that a brand new school, which could introduce some diversity to the area, will open.

The department conducted surveys of parents in over 40 areas and in 28 cases it found sufficient demand for an alternative patron

Mr Quinn then asked local bishops to consult with their communities with a view to vacating a premises - perhaps, through a merger of two existing schools -  that could be handed over to a different patron.

The Catholic Church has consistently advised that the process would be slow because of the attachment  of parents to their school and need to secure agreement in local communities about which premises would be handed up.

So, out of the five schools on today’ list  only two are scheduled to move into former church-run schools.

Mr Quinn admitted that it was “always going to be difficult” to get local communities to agree to hand over a particular school to which sets of parents are attached.

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