Thursday 14 December 2017

Parents to play major role in deciding fate of primary schools

Katherine Donnelly

A NEW forum will draw up plans to allow parents to help decide whether their local Catholic school is handed over to another patron body.

But how parents' views are measured, which is one of the key issues for consideration by the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, has yet to be decided.

The forum, which was officially launched yesterday, will draw up guidelines on how best to transfer control of some of the 92pc of Catholic-run primary schools.

And forum chairman Professor John Coolahan, a leading educationalist, has invited written submissions ahead of a three-day open working session at the end of June.

The forum will report by the end of the year and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn hopes the handover process can get under way next year.

Mr Quinn, who controversially claimed a few weeks ago that 50pc of Catholic schools could be transferred, yesterday displayed a subtle shift in thinking.

He said the percentage would vary from place to place, depending on parental wishes -- but it was probable that, over time, about 50pc of primary pupils would be in schools outside church patronage.

Measuring pupils rather than schools reflects the probability that schools in urban areas are more likely to make a switch than those in rural Ireland.

Urban schools tend to be bigger and with a more diverse population -- and would have a greater impact in terms of pupil numbers.

Prof Coolahan said it was a sensitive and complex task and stressed that parental and children's rights were a bedrock principle of its work. He would not predict how the matter of parental choice would be determined, but said he would prefer a system of "taking soundings about what is most feasible", rather than a vote.

"In a plebiscite, sometimes the truth can get a little submerged," he said.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who was the first to admit it was untenable for the church to retain so many schools, said he was "happy this day has arrived".

Irish Independent

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