The Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process, was announced by the Government to provide more multi-denominational and non-denominational schools across the country, in line with the choices of families and school communities and the Programme for Government commitment for 400 multi-/non-denominational schools by 2030. This process, which involves the transfer of live schools as opposed to the amalgamation and closure model of the patronage divesting process, is aimed at significantly increasing patron diversity.
There are two Phases to the new process - the Identification Phase and the Implementation Phase.
The Identification Phase is currently underway in 16 initial areas nationwide, one per Education and Training Board (ETB) area. The Identification Phase involves ETBs identifying an area where there is likely to be unmet oncoming demand for a multi or non-denominational school, and surveying pre-school parents (in partnership with the local childcare committee) to assess the level of this oncoming demand. ETBs then meet with the local majority patron (the relevant Catholic Bishop/Archbishop) to outline the results of the survey and discuss options for a reconfiguration of existing schools to meet this oncoming demand. The response by the patron is included in a report prepared by the ETB, for submission to my Department, who will subsequently publish the reports. It is envisaged that the reports from the initial areas will be published in the first half of this year.
Following the publication of the first round of reports, the Schools Reconfiguration process will move into the Implementation Phase. It is envisaged that the Implementation Phase will be led by the existing majority patron (the relevant Catholic Bishop/Archbishop). Central to this phase is consultation with parents as part of the school community where voluntary reassignment of patronage of a school is envisaged. Draft protocols for the Implementation Phase are at an advanced stage of development and consultation with Catholic Church representatives is ongoing.
The “Early Movers” provision of the process allows for any school community to directly engage their current patron, outside of the main process, and to seek a transfer of patronage to a multi-denominational patron, fast-tracking the patronage reassignment. Already the first reconfiguration has successfully taken place, with Two-Mile Community National School in Kerry opening in September 2017 under the "Early Movers" provision of this new process. I encourage any school which is seeking a transfer of patronage under the “Early Movers” provision to contact their school patron directly.
Separately, following agreement with the Archdiocese of Dublin and Archdiocese of Armagh last year and on foot of requests from the local communities, two former Catholic schools in Faughart, Co. Louth and Brannoxtown, Co. Kildare continued to serve their local communities under new multi-denominational patronage as Community National Schools from September 2018.
During this initial rollout of the reconfiguration process, the precise number of schools that will transfer in a two-year timeframe is difficult to predict, given that any such number will be dependent on many factors, including the results of the parental consultation in each area.
While the Schools Reconfiguration process structures are being progressed, my Department is continuing to work with the main stakeholders to progress delivery of diversity in areas already identified as part of the 2012 and 2013 surveys under the patronage divesting process. In this regard, from 2013 to 2018, 11 multi-denominational schools have opened under the patronage divesting process and a twelfth school has been announced to be established under this process for September 2019. As the Deputy may be aware, the divestment model does not involve building new schools but requires the availability of school premises vacated, for example, due to amalgamation or closure.
There is no one model which will provide a universal answer to this complex issue and in the context of an expanding population and increasing demand for multi-denominational education. There is room for a number of different multi- and non-denominational patrons to respond to different parental wishes through the different process now in place, including the schools reconfiguration process and the process for establishing new schools in areas of demographic growth.