As the Deputy will be 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. In the case of Tipperary ETB, the area selected is Roscrea. 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. 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.
As it currently stands, most of the Identification Phase reports from these 16 initial areas have been finalised and it is envisaged that the reports will be published on my Department's website www.education.ie 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.
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.
Separately to the main Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity Process, there is also a possibility for school communities to directly engage with their patron regarding 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.