Bishops’ Council for Education response to the Department of Education & Skills examination of areas for possible divesting of patronage of Catholic primary schools
In looking to the future the Church has made clear the commitment of Catholic communities throughout Ireland to providing denominational Catholic education to parents who desire such for their children. Catholic schools in Ireland are caring, inclusive communities, which offer quality in teaching and learning, and which have made, are still making, and will continue to make an outstanding contribution to society and Church in Ireland. However, the Catholic Church in Ireland does not see itself in the future as the sole or dominant provider of schools. As recently as 2007 the Church formally detailed its view on future provision at primary level in our document Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future (http://www.catholicbishops.ie/education/24).
The data made available today by the Department on its website, using its own criteria, provides solid information on existing schools in ten geographical areas. No particular school listed in the Department’s documentation is being prioritised as a candidate for divesting. Importantly, no school will undergo a change in patronage without a transparent process of consultation which takes full account of parental choice, the concerns and interests of the local community, teachers’ rights and the common good.
Verifying parental choice
Parental choice is the key area with regard to education. Both the Irish Constitution and the teaching of the Catholic Church emphasise the primary role of parents in the education of their children. The verification of parental choice demands much more than a simple quantitative analysis. It necessitates the measurement of parental attitudes, beliefs, values and expectations. In addition, it requires a long-term framework through which a variety of complex issues can be addressed.
Clarification of terminology
Religious affiliation is not the only measure of inclusivity and diversity in Ireland. It is important to define key terms in the process, such as denominational schooling, non-denominational schooling, inter-denominational schooling and multi-denominational schooling. It is often suggested that multi-denominational schools are more diverse, plural and inclusive. However many denominational schools (Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist) have in fact been leaders in embracing social diversity through reaching out to students with special needs, to various socially disadvantaged groups, to ethnic / racial minorities and by providing education in communities suffering from serious socio-economic problems. Such Catholic schools are fully embedded in local communities.
Internal Church reflection
An internal Church reflection on the nature and scope of Catholic schools and education for the next generation is now required. This will involve consultation with patrons and trustees, parents and students, Parish Pastoral Councils, Boards of Management, Catholic Colleges of Education and other ecclesial bodies. The Catholic Schools Partnership, under its Chairperson Fr Michael Drumm, will play a leading role in this process. We live in a changing Ireland and our Catholic schools and parishes must continue to adapt to new cultural and social contexts. We expressed our understanding of the true nature of a Catholic school in the pastoral letter Vision 08: A Vision for Catholic Education in Ireland (http://www.catholicbishops.ie/education/955), published on 8 May 2008.
Schools are among the most important of social realities. We look forward to progress on these steps that need to be taken in the development of a long-term framework with regard to the patronage of primary schools. Change needs to be thought through carefully. We invite those who are interested in the future of Catholic schools to make their views known and to contribute to this important debate in our society.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678