The Report of the Advisory group set up to advise the Minister for Education and Skills on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector has been published today. It was chaired by Prof. John Coolahan and he was assisted by Dr. Caroline Hussey and Ms Fionnuala Kilfeather. This 174-page report outlines the history of patronage in the primary sector in Ireland and makes recommendations on the future direction of policy on this issue.

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 DES 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.

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”.

Minister Quinn said that he will give his and the Department’s official response to the report in May and a White Paper on the issue will be published in due course. The full report can be downloaded from the Department of Education and Skills website.