Fianna Fáil has welcomed the Report of the Forum on School Patronage and has said that yet again, Minister Ruairí Quinn’s judgment and has been called into question.
Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Brendan Smith said, “Last March, just weeks after becoming Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn announced that 1,500 primary schools would be transferred from Catholic Church patronage from January 2012. Upon questioning it was evident that he hadn’t thought this through at all. The Minister failed to consider the impact on our education system of forcing such radical changes on 50% of our primary schools without careful consideration and consultation.
“Over the past year Minister Quinn’s tendency to make major decisions without weighing up any evidence has been exposed on several occasions. After the Budget he was forced into a partial u-turn on severe cuts to our most disadvantaged schools. His admission that he hadn’t realised the consequences of increasing their class sizes by a whopping 50% damaged confidence right throughout the education system.
“The report from the Forum on Patronage is an outright rejection of Minister Quinn’s Big-Bang approach and shows that changes to our education system must be based on real evidence and careful consideration,” said Deputy Smith.
Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Education Senator Averil Power said the report has taken on board many recommendations from Fianna Fáil’s submission to the Forum on Patronage, including:
- The importance of changes being informed by the wishes of parents as ascertained through local surveys, rather than just a national grand plan.
- The need for well-planned transition of schools from Catholic patronage, rather than a “big bang” approach.
- The need to evaluate the Community National School model as piloted by the previous Government to see if this new form of multi-denominational school should be rolled out in other areas.
Senator Power said, “Fianna Fáil also argued that Ireland should be careful to guard against the kind of religious segregation of schoolchildren that has caused problems in other countries. At present, the vast majority of primary schools – albeit under religious patronage – welcome children of all faiths and none. As schools are transferred to other patronage, there is a risk of increasing segregation, with Catholic children going to one school and those of other faiths and none going to other schools.
“There is no doubt that the existing patronage arrangements need to evolve. However, we also need to seriously consider whether diversity is best accommodated by all schools being fully inclusive or by different schools catering for different faiths and none. Ultimately, I believe that multi-faith understanding and social harmony are best secured by children of all faiths and none learning together. Such an objective must however be considered in the context of the massive contribution that religious institutions have made to Irish education and the need for change to be carefully managed, rather than badly delivered in haste. Fianna Fail will be considering these and other issues as we study the Report’s recommendations,” she said.