I propose to take Questions Nos. 323 to 325, inclusive, together.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment of reaching 400 multi-/non-denominational schools in Ireland by the year 2030. The Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity Process is aimed at assisting in achieving this target by transferring existing schools from denominational to multi-/non-denominational patronage in line with the wishes of the school community.
Transfer of patronage and consultation with school communities on reconfiguration is a matter for the current patron in the first instance. Any concerns or views that parents have should be discussed with the school patron.
The Reconfiguration process is composed of two separate and distinct phases - the Identification Phase and the subsequent Implementation Phase.
In the Identification Phase, each of the country’s 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) have selected an initial pilot area within their district where surveys of parents of pre-school children have been carried out by the relevant City/County Childcare Committee on behalf of the ETBs. ETBs then draw up comprehensive reports detailing the outcomes of the surveys in relation to each of the 16 pilot areas. This forms the basis of discussions with the most prevalent patron/landowner in the area, which is the Catholic Bishop or Archbishop in most cases, concerning the transfer of patronage of an existing school(s) to meet that demand.
The first Identification Phase of the pilot process is nearing completion for 16 initial areas nationwide, including the Malahide & Portmarnock area. It is envisaged that the Identification Phase reports from the initial areas will be published in the first half of this year.
Following the completion of the Identification Phase, it is intended that the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process will move into the Implementation Phase, which would involve the existing patron of the majority of schools in each area, i.e., the relevant Catholic Archbishop or Bishop, consulting with their local school communities on accommodating the oncoming demand for a greater diversity of patronage among the schools in their area.
The transfer to a new patron should reflect the wishes of parents and the school community. The Department envisages that such consultation would include an outline of contingencies that may be put in place for parents who wish for their children to retain the current ethos of the school, having regard to local circumstances.
The Implementation Phase would also provide an opportunity for potential multi-denominational and non-denominational patrons to engage in a consultative process with the existing school community, affording the best possible opportunity for patron bodies themselves to inform parents as to the unique characteristics of their schools. This may include a meeting where prospective patrons could provide information to the school community.
The Implementation Phase of the process has yet to formally commence. Draft protocols for the Implementation Phase are at an advanced stage of development and consultation with Catholic Church representatives is ongoing.
In relation to the specific school referenced by the Deputy, the existing school patron, the Dublin Archbishop, would lead the Implementation Phase of the process.
I understand that the Dublin Archdiocese representatives are in the process of holding meetings with a number of primary schools under their patronage in this area to provide information to them on the process rather than as part of the formal Implementation Phase of the Schools Reconfiguration process.
It is also possible for any school community to directly engage their current patron, outside of the main reconfiguration process, and to seek a transfer of patronage to a multi-denominational patron, fast-tracking the patronage reassignment. Already the first 'early mover' reconfiguration has successfully taken place, with Two-Mile Community National School in Kerry opening in September 2017. I encourage any school which is seeking a transfer of patronage under the “Early Movers” provision to contact their school patron directly.