New state-run school a historic step for integrated schooling

Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times believes a landmark moment (subs needed) in Irish education has been reached with the decision to establish State-run primary schools in the Irish Republic. What is especially interesting is that the move has been warmly welcomed by the Catholic Church. The new model of primary school patronage will be introduced, on a pilot basis, at a national school in Diswellstown, Co Dublin, due to open in September 2008.
According to Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Education Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference:

“The Constitution of Ireland provides for the education of children from all faiths and of none. To this end the development of models of educational patronage is something desirable and welcome in contemporary Ireland. The Catholic Church has always supported the rights of parents to establish schools that reflect the values of the home.”

McGarry argues that the support of the Catholic Church for this move seems to contradict the common belief that there is a battle going on between the Catholic bishops and “relentless secularising forces” in a fight to the death over who would have control over the education of Ireland’s children.

Such reports would now appear to have been greatly exaggerated. For the first time since the primary school network was set up under denominational patronage in 1831, the State has indicated it is investigating a new form of patronage by which it will control primary schools where “a traditional patron is not available”.

The new national school will be under the patronage of Co Dublin VEC and will take in students from different parts of the community. Hanafin has said she does not intend recognising VECs as the patrons of any other primary schools until the evaluation process is complete. But McGarry believe a historic point has been reached:

What we are looking at here is a historic development which in time will see the State assume a growing role in the patronage of primary schools as Ireland’s communities become more pluralist. Apart from nine model schools, set up under ministerial patronage in the 19th century, no primary schools in the Republic have been under State control.

Since 1831 it has been mainly the church authorities who have acted as patrons of primary schools. Such schools have been privately owned if publicly funded institutions, their denominational character and ethos acknowledged and accepted by the State.

The article points out that currently of the 3,279 primary schools in Ireland, 3,039 are under Catholic patronage; 183 are under the Church of Ireland; 14 under Presbyterian patronage; one Methodist; 34 multidenominational; five interdenominational; two Muslim; one Jewish; and one under Jehovah’s Witnesses patronage.

Now it seems the State is getting in on the act with Hanafin saying the new school at Diswellstown, is “recognition of the changing face of modern Ireland” and that it is hoped it will cater for the diversity of religious faiths represented in the area.

“Provision will be made within the school setting for the religious, moral and ethical education of children in conformity with the wishes of their parents.”

The project, and in particular the Catholic Church’s support of it, has received a ringing endorsement from Michael Wardlow, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

In a letter to the Irish Times, he wrote:

Bishop Leo O’Reilly’s support for parents’ rights “to establish schools that reflect the values of the home” strike a chord with many parents, both Protestant and Catholic, here in the North, who would love to have their children educated together and, in the bishop’s own words, bring together children of “all faiths and none” in one school.

This aim has been at the centre of the movement for integrated education here over the past 25 years.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could move ahead together, rather than apart, and if the Irish Bishops’ Conference would take the lead here as well and endorse moves towards jointly managed schools, whether church-initiated or otherwise?

I feel this would send a strong signal to all education providers – but more importantly the parents – as we create our shared future together built on mutual respect and trust.

  • Nathan

    A positive development…which takes into account the changing nature of Irish society….where a growing number are Orthodox Christians, Bahai, Muslim, etc.

  • Fergus D

    Good news – but absolutely shocking it has taken so long. And there is a hell of a long way to go!

    It seems to have been a feature of the Irish state right from 1921 to want to hand over the responsibilities most European states took for granted (education, social services) to other bodies, mostly the Catholic Church. Is that finally changing?

    Is Ireland the only western european country never to have had a social democratic government?

  • joeCanuck

    Another small step.
    Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the majority of children will be taught in non-demoninational schools.

  • Crataegus

    Very glad to see this. Good news with no down side that I can see.

  • Nevin

    Is it true that someone, who was a victim of abuse, may now be in danger of having their property seized by the High Court to cover legal costs? The story was mentioned on RTE today; I think it may be covered on Prime Time this evening; I understand the problem has arisen because the state doesn’t have ownership of the schools. Perhaps someone can shed some light on this sad tale.

  • Nuala

    I totally support this new concept of fully integrated state run schools. As Michael Wardlow says: ‘Why can’t we move ahead together?’ – rather than apart, which has been the root of so much division in N Ireland society. Well done to the Integrated Education movement! May it go from strength to strength, providing healing and reconciliation in our sadly divided society!

  • educate children together

    if we want a genuinely shared society here, we must start by educating children of all religions and none together. I agree totally with Nuala. The integrated education movement deserves our wholehearted support.

  • Can’t quiet believe

    Do the posters on this reply board realise that by clicking on their poster names,their e-mail addresses are open to all?

    i.e. Nevin can be disposed to or exhibiting violence or destructiveness.

    BTW my email is tosh

  • splurge

    Fergus D – the state didn’t hand over responsibility for education – it never had it in the first place. Why should the State have responsibility for everything? That’s hardly pluralism – that’s more like fascism or communism.

    Nevin – yer woman was told by everyone there was no point suing Dept of Education and she went ahead anyway and lost. State had to go for costs to discourage other reckless lawsuits – this is public money after all. And in any event – if she keeps her head down and shuts up they won’t actually try to get the money.

  • I suppose it makes sense given the wide spread of Catholic schools in NI but I couldn’t believe the Republic never had a state primary school before. This is a good start but there’s a lot of catching up to be done.

    Re: Integegrated education here, the Council for Integrated Education (or whatever they’re called) here do themselves no favours by refusing to open integrated grammars. I’m sure there are plenty of people open to integrated schools but put off by comprehensive ones.

  • it’s a good step – but it’s by no means the first. An Foras Patrúnachta, the patron’s body for Irish medium schools, has been in place for a number of years and has been guaranteeing inter denominational education for children attending a number of gaelscoileanna throughout Ireland.

    This didn’t happen without controversy. The Gaelscoil in Dunboyne in County Meath when a group of parents objected to Catholic children being prepared for Holy Communion during school hours, despite the fact that this policy had been arrived at following consultation with the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church.

    The Principal parted company with the school over the issue.

    The Foras has also suffered due to lack of substantial support from the Government. It’s currently staffed by just one executive.

    The point I’m making is that the state can help the establishment of such bodies – but it must also step up to the plate and back the bodies, not just indulge in headline grabbing gimicks.

    One of the other issues regarding this question is the legal indemnity issue. Thursday night’s Primetime programme on RTE highlighted how a parent of a child who was abused in a school sued the state, lost in a vigorously contested case in which the State pleaded it was not the employer but the Board of Management was, and is now facing a legal bill for €250,000. Not alone that but the State has written to other potential claimants to threaten them with penury if they dare to sue the State along the same lines.

  • Fergus D

    Splurge: Fergus D – the state didn’t hand over responsibility for education – it never had it in the first place. Why should the State have responsibility for everything? That’s hardly pluralism – that’s more like fascism or communism.

    What!!!! Just about every state in western europe has state run education at primary and secondary level, including the USA. The RoI would seem to be the exception. Are all those countries fascist or communist? Ridiculous. In most of those countries you will probably find that much of the education is controlled by governing bodies drawn from parents, teachers and representatives from the local government. State funded education can enable democratic control of the education system via such bodies and by the government which is elected. Not perfect, but not fascist!!! The fact that there never was a state education system in Ireland, as there is in the UK, is a hangover from British rule surely? The British, for whatever reason, didn’t want to set it up in Ireland. The Irish govts just carried on with that as it chimed with their own conservatism and subservience to the RC church. And penny pinching. Ireland needed a dose of social democratic reformism, like in the UK after WWII.

    Re: the RoI government disowning responsibility for abuse in Catholic schools, doesn’t it provide money for those schools? Is there no statutory oversight of these schools by the RoI government? Surely? This escape from responsibility is what makes such systems so attractive to politicians like Blair who wish to “privatise” as much of state services as they can. They can’t be held responsible if things go wrong then can they?

  • blairmayne

    Nevin,

    How are you old bean? Are you spending all your internet time on here now? It would be nice if you could come over to DC and give us a hand with the retard brigade once in a while, you’re sorely missed. Take care.