News archive 2013

CSP responds to patronage survey

Catholic Schools Partnership response to the Reports from the Department of Education and Skills on Surveys of Parental Preferences in 43 areas

The report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector (April 2012) recommended that surveys of parental opinion on school patronage should be conducted in selected areas around the country. In August 2012 the Department of Education and Skills (DES) presented proposals for an online survey to representatives of patrons. After studying the proposals the Catholic Schools Partnership (CSP) wrote to the DES seeking clarification on many issues (see appendix 1).  After receiving these clarifications the CSP wrote to the DES acknowledging the efforts of officials to make the survey instrument as robust as possible while noting the responsibility of the New Schools Establishment Group to guarantee the integrity of the survey process so that all parties can have confidence in the outcomes (see appendix 2).

The DES carried out a pilot survey in five areas in October 2012 and issued its report in December 2012. The CSP raised serious concerns about the presentation of the data in this report (see appendix 3). In April 2013 the DES issued its report on a further 38 area surveys. A summary of key data from all 43 areas can be found in appendix 4.

The response of the CSP to these two reports concerning the 43 areas can be summarised as follows:

  1. The reports published by the Department of Education and Skills on school patronage are welcome. For the first time we have a measure of the number of parents who would avail of greater choice of school patronage. It is important that any proposals for change are based on accurate measurements of parental preferences.
  2. These are not surveys in the ordinary sense of the term as they are not based on representative samples. Rather it is a consultation process with parents. What we learned is that somewhere between 0.6% of parents (in Roscrea) and 8% of parents (in Portmarnock) with children in schools would avail of another form of patronage.
  3. The surveys provide a notable affirmation of Catholic schools. In looking to the future it is clear that many parents wish to have their children educated in Catholic schools. In total, 306 Catholic schools have been surveyed as part of this process.
  4. The level of participation in the surveys is very disappointing with as few as 10% of parents participating in some areas. The average level of participation is approximately 19%. Those who predicted high levels of interest in the surveys have been proven wrong.  Evidence from school principals and others on the ground suggests that, in most areas, it was very difficult to get parents to participate in the process.
  5. The number of parents who say that they will avail of change is lower than predicted. As a result, the reports conclude that there is insufficient demand for a viable school under a different patron in 15 areas. In the other 28 areas the establishment of one school under a new patron is recommended. All of the partners will need to give detailed consideration to what is best in these areas as there is no one size that will fit all. In the case of Ballina the total number of pupils in the 16 schools surveyed is 1,954. The parents of 44 children in these schools said that they will avail of an English language multi-denominational school if such is available to them. That is 2.2% of the pupils in the area. Anyone can see that responding to this level of demand will not be easy because these 44 children are probably scattered across 16 schools. This situation is replicated in many other areas as the figures in appendix 4 demonstrate.
  6. It is notable that in areas with significantly higher participation rates by parents (Malahide, Portmarnock, Rush, Shannon, Skerries, Tipperary) the outcomes of the surveys are very similar to those in the large majority of areas with rates of participation of under 20%.
  7. In seeking to respond to the limited request for change, attention must be given to the large majority who have expressed no such interest. An issue that will arise in many of these 28 areas is the level of displacement that may be required in trying to cater for the views of a minority who want change. Goodwill and generosity will be required on the part of all stakeholders.
  8. The most important decision made by the authors of the report is the choice of a four-teacher school as the threshold for a viable school under a different patron. It is notable that the minimum required enrolment for a new school for many years has been set at 17 pupils in junior infants rising to 51 pupils by year three. Thus the viability of the school is dependent on reaching 51 pupils in a three-year cohort. It appears then that there are two different criteria being used in determining the viability of a new school depending on whether the new school emerges from a process of reconfiguration or whether it is a new start-up school. It is important that Patrons be given clear, objective criteria in planning for the future.

Where do we go from here?  The Minister for Education and Skills has requested that Catholic patrons give consideration to a reconfiguration of schools in 28 areas. Catholic bishops have made clear their openness to greater diversity of school provision based on verifiable parental demand. In seeking to develop a process that takes account of the rights of all stakeholders in our schools the CSP proposes the following:

  1. In response to the Minister’s request it is necessary to put in place a structure of engagement between the DES and the Patrons’ representatives. As consultations in local areas continue it becomes clear that the practical problems differ from one place to another. Engagement between the DES and Patrons will be important in attempting to formulate creative responses to complex situations. In all of this it is imperative to reassure local communities that no change will be implemented without widespread support in the area.
  2. The CSP will continue to roll out a Process for understanding, supporting and taking ownership of the characteristic spirit in a Catholic school. This will help schools to reflect on their core identity and to develop their sense of Catholic mission in today’s world. In some cases it may lead to schools being open to a change in patronage as it becomes clear to all involved that Catholic identity is not central to the characteristic spirit of the particular school. In this instance change is not imposed from outside but is allowed to express itself from within the school community.
  3. The CSP, in co-operation with the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), is launching a project to help Catholic schools develop their capacity for dealing with children of all faiths and none. Such children are already present in most primary schools and the aim of the project is to foster best practice and share it across all schools. Survey work on this important issue has already been conducted by the CPSMA and this will contribute to the development of the project.
  4. Action needs to be taken concerning deeds of variation. The Minister gave a commitment at the AGM of CPSMA (12 April 2013) to deal with the matter during the course of the next year. This is a complex legal issue but the deeds are a fundamental guarantee for denominational schools and are based on an agreement reached many years ago between denominational Patrons and the Minister.

The CSP looks forward to making progress on each of these four steps in its on-going engagement with the issues raised in the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.  

Appendix 1

Mr. Kevin McCarthy,

Forward Planning Section

Department of Education and Skills

Tullamore

Co Offaly

7 September 2012

Dear Kevin,

I refer to the meeting held in Tullamore on 31 August 2012 between the Forward Planning Section of the DES and representatives of patrons.  The DES presented their first model of an on-line survey of parents in the 44 areas announced by the Minister in June 2012. This was the first time that Patrons were informed that the survey would be carried out on-line. It is noted that this is at variance with the recommendation in the forum report. At page 60 of the report it is stated:

Following consultation with the partners, a questionnaire should be prepared by the Department, with the assistance of specialist expertise, to ascertain, from parents of children who are already in school, their preference for school type. The questionnaire should be in a format that is suitable for electronic analysis. As with element A2, the Preference Register for parents with pre-school children, data to inform parents on this topic should accompany the questionnaire. The information in relation to this questionnaire would particularly relate to choice within denominational, multi-denominational, non-denominational and Irish / English language medium choice.  For Phase One, this questionnaire would be issued to all parents in the schools within the 47 chosen areas. The information would be confidential between parents and the Department. The schools would be responsible for the distribution and collection of the questionnaires and their return to the Department. Any published data would be anonymised”.

The proposal to have an on-line survey comes as a surprise to the representatives of Catholic Patrons and we would appreciate your responses to the following questions which arise. Upon receipt of your responses we will be in a position to submit our considered response to the presentation made on 31 August.

  1. Has the Data Protection Commissioner sanctioned the use of PPS numbers in an on-line survey?
  2. How can the DES verify that only parents of children in school and/or pre-school will complete the on-line survey?
  3. How can the DES verify the addresses given by the respondents?
  4. If the answer to the previous two questions is in the negative how can we trust the outcome of the on-line process?
  5. Can the same PPS number be used for different geographic areas?
  6. Can the on-line survey be limited to respondents in a specific geographic area?
  7. Will all respondents, irrespective of their geographic location, be able to express an opinion on the patronage in the 44 areas?
  8. How does the DES intend to survey parents who have no access to on-line material?
  9. How does the DES intend to survey parents who are not computer literate?
  10. How does the DES intend to survey parents whose language is not Irish or English?
  11. What sort of information campaign will be mounted to inform parents about patronage and the survey?
  12. What minimum percentage response to the survey will the DES consider to be a true reflection of parental opinion?
  13. How does the Department intend to deal with a situation where the number of respondents in any given area is in excess of the potential number of legitimately interested parties?
  14. What specialist expertise has the DES consulted in the preparation of the survey materials?

I look forward to receiving your response to these questions. Upon receipt of your responses we will be in a position to submit our considered response to the presentation made on 31 August.

Yours sincerely,

 

Fr. Michael Drumm

Chairperson

Appendix 2

Mr. Kevin McCarthy,

Forward Planning Section

Department of Education and Skills

Tullamore

Co Offaly

1 October 2012

Dear Kevin,

I refer to your letter of 17 September and to our meeting of 20 September 2012. I acknowledge the many clarifications you provided in the context of the questions that I had raised in my letter to you of 7 September. In particular, I note:

  1. Your assurance that we are not involved in plebiscites concerning individual schools but rather the process is an attempt to determine the real level of parental demand for additional forms of patronage on an area basis.
  2. That hard copies of questionnaires will be provided through schools to parents who have difficulty with on-line access.
  3. That school communities can mount whatever information campaigns they so wish in order to heighten awareness of the survey in a locality. The Code of Conduct will apply to Patrons. Other members of the school communities will, as is their constitutional right, participate actively in the process if they so choose.

Our considered response to the proposed on-line survey process is that we would prefer a questionnaire issued to parents through schools as recommended in the forum report (see p.60). However, we understand that the Department wishes to undertake an on-line survey. We acknowledge your efforts to make the process as robust as possible given the obvious limitations and serious difficulties with online surveys. It is the responsibility of the New Schools Establishment Group to guarantee the integrity of the survey process so that all parties can have confidence in the outcomes.

Yours sincerely,

 

Fr. Michael Drumm

Chairperson

Appendix 3

Mr. Kevin McCarthy,

Forward Planning Section

Department of Education and Skills

Tullamore

Co Offaly

18 February 2013

Dear Kevin,

I write to you concerning the Report on the pilot surveys regarding parental preferences on primary school patronage published by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) on 12 December 2012. In this context I refer to your letter to me of 17 September 2012 and to my response dated 1 October 2012 and to meetings held in the DES on 18 December 2012 and 6 February 2013.

I have very serious concerns with the manner in which the data was presented in the Report and in the DES Press Release issued to coincide with the publication of the Report. I emphasise that my questions relate not to the data, nor their analysis by officials in the DES, but rather with the use of geographic areas and percentages in interpreting the data.

The issues that are of concern to me and many others who have studied the Report include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. What is the definition of a geographic area?  In Table 2 (p.5) an area is understood to be defined by the CSO town boundary.  In Tables 3 – 6 (pp.5-6), an area appears to mean the geographic area extending to 5 kilometres from the CSO town boundary.   It is clearly important that an area be defined exactly in the report.
  2. The percentage of parents who participated in the survey has given rise to a lot of confusion.  Given that the number of parents of school children and pre-school children who participated in the survey is readily available, why can a percentage participation rate not be estimated?  Table 1 (p.4) and Table 3 (p.5) provide much of the relevant data.  Based on the actual number of participants, the percentage of parents of school children and pre-school children who participated in the survey in each area was as follows:

Arklow 20.4%

Castlebar 28.2%

Tramore 19.7%

Trim 27%

Whitehall 23.3%

These figures would prove useful for public commentary as they clearly delineate the number of participants in the survey.  Instead of providing such a figure, the report gives a very confusing percentage in Table 2 (p.5).  This table calculates the number of children covered by the survey as a percentage of the number of children aged 0-12 years within the CSO town boundary.  The question must be raised as to the value of this calculation.  In the case of Trim, the actual participation rate was 27%, as can be calculated on the basis of Tables 1 and 3, whereas Table 2 gives the percentage rate at 43.1%.  It is unclear as to why Table 2 is included as it provides no useful information and could easily lead a reader to misinterpret the rate of participation in the survey.

  1. The main purpose of the survey is to establish the actual level of parental demand for a wider choice in the patronage of primary schools within the selected areas.  This is clearly achieved by the surveys and is closely analysed in each of the five appendices (pp.9–34). It must be noted that this is not a survey in the ordinary sense of the term as it is not based on a representative sample. Rather it is a consultation process with parents. The number of parents who will avail of English language, multi-denominational schooling, if it becomes available, is measured exactly.  However, nowhere in the report is this number calculated as a percentage of all relevant parents in the area.  The percentages are as follows:

Arklow 4.5%

Castlebar 6%

Tramore 5%

Trim 6.1%

Whitehall 6%

These are the real headline figures concerning each area but they are not included in the report.  Instead, a large number of percentages are included which are difficult to interpret but give the overall impression that the demand for change is greater than that suggested by the figures above. What we learn from the survey is that between 4.5-6.1% of parents of school-going and pre-school children would avail of an English language, multi-denominational school if such became available. The partners should work together to reconfigure the system so that it responds to this level of demand for additional forms of patronage in a particular area.

Serious questions arise concerning the Press Release (12 December 2012) issued by the DES on the publication of the Report. It speaks of 99% of parents participating in the survey and gives incorrect figures for valid responses and the number of children represented. It is notable that actual numbers (though wrong) were given for the number of responses and children, but percentages were provided in calculating the demand for greater choice. Nowhere is a percentage figure given for the level of participation in the survey nor for the number of parents who would avail of choice as a percentage of the overall number of parents in the area. These last two pieces of information are the key results of the survey but they are not mentioned in the Press Release of the DES.

The reconfiguration of the primary school system to better represent contemporary Irish society is a demanding task. I have made clear that it must be based on local support and that there is a need to foster local trust in a process which can over time provide us with a system that is more responsive to parental demand. While the recent pilot surveys are useful in this regard I believe that the interpretation given to the data in the report and in public commentary by the DES has undermined confidence in this process in local communities. I hope that the Report and commentary on the thirty-eight further areas recently surveyed will enhance rather than undermine trust in this complex process.

I would be obliged if you could bring my concerns to the attention of the New Schools Establishment Group and the Press Office of the DES.

In conclusion, I acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by you and your colleagues in the Forward Planning Section of the DES in ensuring that a robust survey mechanism was put in place and in overseeing the process.

Yours sincerely,

 

Fr. Michael Drumm

Chairperson

 

Appendix 4

Summary of outcomes from 43 surveys

Area

Includes all schools within 5 kms of the town boundary (Dublin areas are treated differently)

Total no of pupils

in schools in the area – no. of Catholic schools in brackets

Participation rate

= no. of children in schools in the area whose parents participated

No of children in school whose parents will avail of an English language multi-d school
Arklow* 1,965 in 8 (6) schools 392 = 19.9% 80 = 4%
Ballina* 1,954 in 16 (15) schools 282 = 14% 44 = 2.2%
Ballinasloe 1,120 in 9 (8) schools 218 = 19% 31 = 2.7%
Bandon 1,392 in 8 (7) schools 192 = 14% 49  = 3.5%
Birr *

 

918 in 6  (5) schools 228 = 24.8% 21 = 2.2%

Gaelscoil

Buncrana 1,281 in 6 (4) schools 297 = 23.1% 21 = 1.6%
Carrick on Suir 1,338 in 8 (8) schools 229 = 17% 48 = 3.5%
Carrigaline * 3,078 in 12 (9) schools 414 = 13.4% 66 = 2.1%
Castlebar* 2,261 in 11 (11) schools 593 = 26.2% 130 = 5.7%
Celbridge * 2,464 in 6 (4) schools 390 = 15.8% 64 = 2.5%
Clonmel * 2,762 in 13 (12) schools 635 = 22% 127 = 4.5%
Cobh * 1,619 in 6 (5) schools 344 = 20% 76 = 4.4%
Dublin 6*

Harolds Cross
Rathmines

2,253 in 8 (7) schools 143 = 6.3% 69 = 3%
Dungarvan *

 

1,792 in  10 (10) schools 254 = 14.1% 55 = 3%
Edenderry 1,598 in 8 (7) schools 270 = 17% 47 = 2.9%
Enniscorthy 1,907 in 7 (6) schools 229 = 12% 55 = 2.8%
Fermoy* 1,300 in 8 (7) schools 149 = 11.4% 39 = 3%
Kells* 1,370 in 8 (7) schools 141 = 10.2% 59 = 4.3%

 


Area

Includes all schools within 5 kms of the town boundary (Dublin areas are treated differently)

Total no of pupils

in schools in the area – no. of Catholic schools in brackets

Participation rate

= no. of children in schools in the area whose parents participated

No of children in school whose parents will avail of an English language multi-d school
Killarney * 2,483 in 12 (12) schools 454 = 18.2% 72 = 2.8%
Leixlip * 1,925 in 6 (6) schools 292 = 15.1% 70 = 3.6%
Longford 1,828 in 8 (7) schools 255 = 14% 37 = 2%
Loughrea* 1,060 in 6  (5) schools 189 = 17.8% 44 = 4.1%
Malahide * 2,099 in 4 (3) schools 912 = 43.4% 128 = 6%
Monaghan 1,643 in  12 (9) schools 220 = 13.3% 42 = 2.5%
Nenagh* 1,720 in 11 (10) schools 157 = 9.1% 39 = 2.2%
New Ross* 1,572 in 8   (8) schools 215 = 13.6% 63 = 4%

Palmerstown/Ballyfermot

Chapilizod/Cherry Orchard*

3,122 in 13 (12) schools 415 = 13.2% 87 = 2.7%
Passage West * 824 in 3   (3)  schools 263 = 31.9% 56 = 6.7%
Portmarnock*

 

864 in 3  (3)  schools 459 = 53.1% 69 = 7.9%
Roscommon

 

1,194 in 8  (8) schools 325 = 27.2% 47 = 3.9%
Roscrea 987 in 7  (5) schools 75 = 7.5% 6 = 0.6%
Rush* 1,350 in 4  (3)  schools 325 = 38.7% 78 = 5.7%
Shannon* 1,684 in 9  (8) schools 874  = 51.9% 81 = 4.8%
Skerries 1,471 in 6  (4) schools 603 = 40.9% 40 = 2.7%
Thurles 1,451 in 8 (8) schools 242 = 16.6% 45 = 3.1%
Tipperary

 

983 in 9  (9) schools 349 = 35.5% 50 = 5%
Area

Includes all schools within 5 kms of the town boundary (Dublin areas are treated differently)

Total no of pupils

in schools in the area – no. of Catholic schools in brackets

Participation rate

= no. of children in schools in the area whose parents participated

No of children in school whose parents will avail of an English language multi-d school
Tramore* 1,644 in 5 (5) schools 328 = 19.9% 80 = 4.8%
Trim* 1,540 in 7 (6) schools 343 = 22.2% 71 = 4.6%
Tuam * 1,452 in 10  (10) schools 195 = 13.4% 64  = 4.4%
Westport * 1,493 in   11 (10) schools 223 = 14.9% 67 = 4.4%
Whitehall* 2,449 in  7 (7) schools 431 = 17.5% 129 = 5.2%
Wicklow 2,080 in  8  (5) schools 324 = 15.5% 31 = 1.4%
Youghal 1,074 in 6 (5) schools 118 = 10.9% 32 = 2.9%

*Areas where the report recommends change

Notes to Editors

  • The Catholic Schools Partnership was launched by Cardinal Seán Brady on 28 January 2010.  It was established by the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland.  The aim of the CSP is to support all partners involved in the provision of Catholic education while respecting the very real diversity that exists among Catholic schools in Ireland.  The role of the Catholic Schools Partnership is not to create a large centralised structure but to provide a framework wherein some issues can be handled at a more central level while respecting the autonomy and diversity of our schools.  CSP functions on the basis of subsidiarity, namely that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.  The CSP does not replace or amalgamate the existing Catholic management, trustee and patron organizations, rather it seeks to foster a deeper sense of partnership and shared purpose among patrons/trustees, management bodies including boards of management and teachers in Catholic schools.  At the heart of the partnership is a council with thirty-three members drawn from across the spectrum of Catholic schools. The office is based in Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, Co Kildare and Father Michael Drumm is Executive Chairperson of the Catholic Schools Partnership.
  • Father Michael Drumm is available to local and national media for interviews.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678

 

 

 

 

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