Saturday 17 February 2018

In my opinion: If the answer is divesting, what was the question?

Aine Lynch

At school, we were given maths problems where we were presented with the answer and were told we had to work out what the question was that would provide this answer.

Divesting seems to be somewhat the same. It seems we have been given the answer . . . but what was the question?

If we want to deal with the real challenges in our primary education system, we can't provide the answers and then try to make the questions fit.

Divesting is only the answer, if the only problem is that there are too many Catholic schools and by having less the problem will be resolved.

The challenges in the primary education system, however, are more complex.

A significant amount of Ireland's primary schools are relatively small and provide education to children within a certain parish area.

Outside of urban areas, children generally attend their local school, which is often a school under Catholic patronage. If this school is divested from the Catholic patron to another patron, will it provide any more choice in the local area?

The NPC's education policy development group (NPC Assembly) recently met to discuss the issue of patronage.

In deliberating the issues, the Assembly heard expert speakers and considered survey results from an NPC membership survey in which more than 400 questionnaires were completed and returned.

During the discussions and debate that lasted more than two days, divesting was rarely mentioned. Words that were frequently discussed, however, were equality, fairness, opportunity and access.

Parents discussed the difficulties in the current system whereby their children had to be excluded and removed during periods of the school day if their beliefs were not congruent with the patronage of the school and they didn't want their children educated in the school's belief system.

Issues relating to enrolment policies and equality of access were also debated at length.

The discussions regarding patronage and divesting also need to be cognisant of a separate discussion that is currently going on in education regarding the value for money in small primary schools with less than 50 pupils attending.

The discussion regarding increasing choice has to bear in mind a discussion that may result in fewer primary schools.

The NPC, as well as some of its other partners in education, have long been calling for a forum on education, a forum that looks at what type of education system we want in Ireland and sets out a plan and a timeframe on how we are going to get there.

While the NPC welcomes the minister's announcement on a forum to discuss patronage and pluralism, the NPC believes that these issues within primary education should be discussed in the broader context of the primary education system.

We need a primary education system that respects all children equally. This is not a comment aimed at individual schools, which by and large are doing an excellent job at valuing the individuality of children in their care.

It is a comment on the education system that, in its current format, needs reform.

Divesting may be part of such a reform but let's first of all acquire clarity regarding what type of education system we are trying to build for children in Ireland.

Aine Lynch is Chief Executive Officer, National Parents Council – Primary

Irish Independent

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