Saturday 24 March 2018

Parents get role in deciding who runs new school

Katherine Donnelly

PARENTS are getting a formal role in deciding who runs a new second-level school, for the first time ever in Ireland.

An initiative being unveiled tonight represents a milestone in the history of education, as the system grapples with an increasingly diverse population.

The Department of Education is launching a survey, seeking parents' views on who should be appointed patron of a new 1,000-pupil school in Gorey, Co Wexford, which will open next year.

The choice is between a community college run by Co Wexford Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and a secondary school, under the umbrella of Educate Together.

It has triggered a fierce battle between the two organisations, which have mounted campaigns to win over hearts and minds, including the use by the VEC of a public relations company.

The department has invited both bodies to make presentations at a public meeting in the town tonight and, such is the level of sensitivity, a flip of a coin will decide who speaks first.

The parents' survey carries the single greatest weighting in the department's decision-making process, accounting for 400 of 850 points available.

Other criteria include the curriculum on offer and the ability to cater for pupils who want tuition through Irish.

Traditionally, recognition for new schools has been based on applications from patron bodies. In the case of competition, the department would decide, but parents never had a formal role before.

Both the VEC and Educate Together have enlisted high-profile names in support of their bid for control in Gorey. Educate Together has been endorsed by Nicholas Sweetman, former principal of Gorey Community School, the existing second-level school in the town, whose trusteeship is shared between the VEC, Loreto order and the Christian Brothers.

Mr Sweetman has joined Educate Together's second-level advisory committee. Local Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey has also pledged his support for Educate Together.

The VEC application is being backed by Pat Kinsella, former principal of one of the first VEC-run community colleges in Ballincollig, Co Cork.

Both organisations offer multi-denominational, co-educational models of education, so parents will have to look deeper before giving their preference. Co Wexford VEC insists it is "best qualified", having been involved in education in the county for 80 years.

Educate Together has been seeking recognition at second-level for years, to build on its small, but growing, base at primary level, where it is patron of 58 schools.

Irish Independent

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