Department of Education and Skills Press Release

Minister Quinn publishes the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector
10 April, 2012

The Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Ruairí Quinn T.D., today published the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.

Welcoming the report, Minister Quinn said “We live in a changed and changing nation. There is a general acceptance that a greater diversity of primary schooling is necessary and I welcome the readiness among partners to embrace this. The key issue is how best to promote and develop this diversity. The Advisory Group report will assist us in this complex area”.

The Minister thanked the independent Advisory Group members, Professor John Coolahan, Chair of the Group, Dr. Caroline Hussey and Ms Fionnuala Kilfeather for their considerable work and commitment to the Forum.

The Minister said “This report outlines the history and evolution of patronage in Irish society. It also shows the need for the primary school system to now adapt to the needs of a more diverse society”.

247 submissions were received from interest groups, parents and members of the public and were considered by the Advisory group. Primary and post-primary pupils also participated in the consultation process.

The report notes that while 96% of education provision at primary level is denominational arising from the historical development of Irish primary education, there is clearly increased demand for new forms of multi-denominational and non-denominational schooling, as well as increased demand for Irish language schooling.

Minister Quinn said “Parental choice should be our main concern. Over recent decades, Irish society has been undergoing major political, social, economic, cultural, demographic and educational change. Primary school provision needs to reflect this changed society and provide for increased diversity.”

Minister Quinn has asked that the Education Partners and interested parties examine the report and take time to reflect on and digest the recommendations. The Minister is considering the report’s findings and recommendations and he plans to outline his official response in May.

As per the commitment in the Programme for Government, a White Paper on pluralism and patronage in the primary sector will follow.

The recommendations of the Advisory Group can be broadly divided into three key areas:

  • Divesting patronage where there is a stable population and demand for diversity of schools
  • dealing with Irish medium primary schools
  • promoting more inclusiveness in all schools, including ‘Stand Alone’ schools where divesting patronage to another body is not an option

The report recommends achieving diversity of patronage by using the existing stock of schools in areas where the population is stable. Where there is a cluster of denominational schools but also parental demand for alternative school patronage, the report recommends that transfer of patronage be achieved with assistance from the Department.

The Advisory Group cautions against a ‘big bang’ approach and advises that change of patronage should happen in a phased way, through the adoption of a catchment approach, taking account of the preferences of parents.

The report recommends that phase one of this work would involve examining school patronage in 43 towns and 4 Dublin areas identified by the Department in 2010, arising from a request by the Catholic Church, as likely to have substantial demand for diversity. This will involve 18 dioceses and scrutiny of approximately 250 schools, out of which approximately 50 may be divested.

A three stage process is recommended, whereby the DES would gather information on the demand for divestment through parental surveys. This would be followed by a report on the options for patronage and finally patrons would be required to respond within a definite timeframe.

This would occur alongside a programme of provision of new schools in areas of population growth, the patronage of which would be based on parental demand.

The report makes a number of recommendations concerning the provision of Irish medium schools, including the piloting of the concept of a “satellite” school, which would be linked to a well established ‘parent’ Irish medium school.

For communities served by one ‘Stand Alone’ school, where transfer of patronage is not an option, the report makes recommendations aimed at ensuring such schools are as inclusive as possible and accommodate pupils of various belief systems. There are approximately 1700 of these schools, which are at least 3km from their nearest neighbour. The report suggests the development of a protocol which would facilitate all schools in developing clear policies accessible to parents on how they manage diversity and ensure an inclusive and respectful environment for all their pupils.

“The Forum on Patronage is a key commitment in the programme for Government and is another indication of our drive to reform and ensure fairness in our schools. However, I am very conscious of the need to balance making real progress in divesting patronage in the short-term and the longer term aim of ensuring commitment by all concerned to more inclusiveness and diversity in schools,” said Minister Quinn.

Given the demands on the resources available at primary level, the Minister is also mindful that such changes should, wherever possible, be cost neutral.


Click on link to download Forum’s Advisory Group Report