I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 to 81, inclusive, together.
The Deputy has raised a number of questions on the consultation undertaken by representatives of the Dublin Archdiocese with schools under Catholic patronage in the Malahide/Portmarnock area of Dublin. I will address these, prior to outlining the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process.
My Department understands that a representative of the Archdiocese of Dublin wrote to schools in the Portmarnock, Malahide, Kinsealy and Yellow Walls areas on 5 April last in relation to the consultation that had been undertaken by the Archdiocese with a number of schools under its patronage in these areas. I understand that this correspondence indicates that any vote which may have been planned by the schools involved should be postponed, pending the publication of the Identification Phase report for this area as part of the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process. My Department intends to publish the Identification Phase reports in the first half of this year.
For clarity, I wish to confirm that in relation to the phase 1 pilot areas, including Malahide/Portmarnock, the Implementation Phase of the process has not yet commenced.
Prior to the letter issuing on the 5th of April, I understand that representatives of the Dublin Archdiocese had been holding meetings with a number of primary schools under their patronage in the Malahide and Portmarnock area to provide information to them on the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process. Letters/leaflets received by parents were not based on information provided by my Department. These letters and leaflets contained incorrect information which led to unnecessary confusion. At no stage did the Department seek to impose any artificial deadline on this process and there has never been a requirement for any transfer of patronage to take place in September 2019.
Transfer of patronage and consultation with school communities on Reconfiguration is a matter for the current patron (i.e. the Dublin Archdiocesan representatives in the case of the schools under Catholic patronage in Malahide and Portmarnock) in the first instance. Any concerns or views that parents have in relation to such events should be discussed with the school patron. My Department, as part of this process, is not involved in the selection of any school for reconfiguration.
In relation to the Schools Reconfiguration process, as Deputies are aware, 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.
The process is composed of two separate and distinct phases - the Identification Phase and the subsequent Implementation Phase. The first Identification Phase of the phase 1 pilot process is nearing completion for 16 initial areas nationwide.
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 they consider, based on census data and local knowledge, there is likely to be an oncoming demand for more diversity of patronage within the local educational provision. Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, while initially having selected Skerries, subsequently revised its selection to Malahide and Portmarnock.
Surveys of parents of pre-school children have been carried out in these areas by the relevant City/County Childcare Committee on behalf of the ETBs. Template documents were supplied in relation to the surveys. ETBs, having analysed the survey results, 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 response of the Bishop to any identified oncoming demand for greater diversity of school patronage in the area is included in the report prepared by the ETB, for submission to my Department, which will publish the reports on its website, www.education.ie. Not all of the Identification Phase reports from these 16 initial areas have been finalised. It is envisaged that the reports will be published in the first half of this year.
Following the publication of the first round of reports, it is intended that the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process will move into the Implementation Phase.
It is intended that the Implementation Phase 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.
In the Implementation Phase, the existing patron (the Catholic Archbishop/Bishop), would identify a school to transfer to a multi-denominational or non-denominational patron (where the Identification Phase report has shown a viable level of demand for greater diversity of patronage).
The process envisages that the identification of a new multi-denominational or non-denominational patron should reflect the wishes of parents and the school community. It will be up to the relevant school patron (i.e. the Catholic Archbishop/Bishop) to discuss with their school communities the choices that could be made.
It is also envisaged that the existing patron would provide information to parents on the multi-denominational/non-denominational options available and engage in a consultative process with the school community. For example, the existing patron may wish to arrange a meeting where prospective patrons could provide information to the school community.
Draft protocols for the Implementation Phase are at an advanced stage of development and consultation with Catholic Church representatives is ongoing.
I recently had a very constructive meeting with Irish Episcopal Conference representatives in relation to a number of matters including Reconfiguration. The Bishops reiterated their commitment to the Reconfiguration process. Further engagement is planned in this regard and I look forward to working positively with the Bishops on this matter in a spirit of continued partnership.
There are also a number of instances where school communities directly engaged their patron and sought a transfer of patronage to a multi-denominational patron. For example, the ‘early movers’ provision fast-tracks patronage reassignment. The first 'early mover' reconfiguration has successfully taken place, with Two-Mile Community National School in Kerry opening in September 2017. Any school which is seeking a transfer of patronage under the “early movers” provision should contact their school patron directly.