2nd October 2007
Bishop Leo O’Reilly, Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for Education
Remarks at the launch of Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future
Columba Centre, Maynooth
You are welcome to the press briefing for the publication by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference of this brief policy document: Catholic Primary Schools – A Policy for Provision into the Future on the provision of Catholic Primary Schools into the future.
CURRENT EDUCATION DEBATE IS NECESSARY
This document was in preparation well before the recent debate in the media and elsewhere about primary school enrolment and provision. We welcome that debate. It is very necessary at a time of rapid change that we discuss openly and honestly the new developments and sometimes unforeseen challenges that face us. The teachers and staffs in our schools have made an outstanding contribution to education in this country over the years. There has been a long history of co-operation between Church and State in the provision of education which has been to the benefit of both. However, there is need for ongoing and in-depth examination of our education system so that it will provide the best education for young people now and in the future.
QUALITY TEACHERS, EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT
It is also important to point out that our schools and indeed our education system are in a very healthy state despite the problems and difficulties that they face in some places at present. At times and perhaps unintentionally the message can be conveyed that our schools and our education system are terminally ill. Nothing could further from the truth. We have an educational system that needs modification and investment if it is to respond to challenges facing it. But it is a good and vibrant educational system, and the Catholic sector at primary and secondary level is an indispensable part of it. The students who pass through our Catholic schools are testimony to the contribution Catholic schools make to the life of the country.
THE RIGHTS OF PARENTS
Our policy document holds strongly that a vibrant, publicly-funded denominational school system is a basic human right for parents who wish to have such for their children and it points out that this right is supported by national and international legal instruments.
Only two weeks ago (September 13th 2007) Pope Benedict XVI, in an address on the subject of education, reiterated the importance of States guaranteeing “the Church the freedom to establish and administer Catholic schools, affording parents the opportunity to choose a means of education that fosters the Christian formation of their children……” The Pope went on to say: “Indeed, a solid education that nourishes all the dimensions of the human person, including the religious and spiritual, is in the interest of both Church and State. In this way, young people can acquire habits that will enable them to embrace their civic duties as they enter adulthood.”
PLURALITY OF PROVISION IS NECESSARY
There is need for greater diversity in schooling in Ireland so as to respond effectively to the changing needs of parents and children in our country. This issue is as important for the denominational sector as it is for the State and for others. The Catholic Church has no desire to be the sole provider of education for whole communities. However it does wish to respond to the desire of those parents who want a Catholic education for their children.
In order to ascertain the desires of parents in this regard the Bishops’ Council for Research and Development is carrying out quantitative research among parents who send their children to Catholic schools in Ireland. A preliminary report from this research will be available to the Conference in December and a full report will be complete for the March Conference. This will give us valuable information not only in relation to the wishes of parents for the education of their children but also the role they see for the Catholic school. As a result of this research we hope to be in a better position to plan for the time ahead.
CATHOLIC SCHOOLS ARE INCLUSIVE
This policy document clearly outlines the role and value of the Catholic school. It points out that Catholic schools are by their nature and by their mission inclusive schools, while catering for Catholic children who choose a school with a Catholic ethos. We are very happy to see that the preliminary results of a five-year research project on education systems in 13 member states of the EU by staff at Dublin City University (The title of the study is “Include-ED”) found that Irish schools are far ahead of their European counterparts in preventing social exclusion. Catholic primary schools are acknowledged to be among the most inclusive in the country.
This same study states that, in terms of the recognition of cultural and religious diversity in schools major reforms need to be undertaken – in particular at primary level. A way forward that may prove fruitful in this regard is the joint Church State bilateral discussions established by the Taoiseach last year. It is intended that this Forum will deal with the broader questions relating to overall policy rather than the day-to-day operational issues. This process may well provide an opportunity and an environment where the overarching and more fundamental issues relating to education may be discussed by Church and State.
I refer you to the conclusion of the policy before taking questions from the media present.
Internationally it is being recognised more and more that faith schools make a very valuable contribution to the common good. They coexist fruitfully alongside other models of provision elsewhere and have done so here in Ireland for more than a century. Their value is much appreciated in the UK, in the document Faith in the System, published last month. In this document we read:
…the government (UK) welcomes the contribution that schools with a religious character make to the school system – both as a result of their historical role and now as key players in contributing to the more diverse school system with greater opportunities for parental choice that we seek.
Catholic schools in Ireland have been major education providers since the foundation of the State and before. We trust that they will continue to play a significant role in educational provision into the future.
Notes to Editors
A copy of Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future is available from www.catholicbishops.ie under ‘Bishops’ Conference pastoral letters and other publications.’
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)