Parents in Ireland have been granted unprecedented power to decide who will run their primary schools. The Irish Times reports that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has announced that families in five areas that are home to the largest grouping of primary schools in the country will get an opportunity to vote on who they prefer to become their next school patron.
The votes will be cast via an online survey which will be collecting opinions from parents in Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trime and Whitehall. The questions will focus on the goals that families of primary and preschool students have for their schools in the coming years. The move was spurred by the agreement of the Catholic Church to give up patronage of schools if enough of the parents voice that preference.
The move is the first step in a process in which schools in 44 areas could be divested of the control of the Catholic Church. The areas in question are those where there is a stable population and a clear demand for a greater diversity of school types.
The other 39 areas will be surveyed from next month.
According to Independent.ie, Irish education authorities hope to eventually move 92% of schools that are currently under the auspices of the Church. The five areas initial areas which are being polled starting this week weren’t just selected because of the high student population density, but also because their increasing ethnic and religious diversity put them at a particular disadvantage in terms of educational availability.
Parents will initially be asked if they want a wider choice of school patrons, and will then be asked to vote in order of preference for the alternative patrons who have expressed an interest in running schools in their areas. They’ll also be asked if they prefer single sex or co-educational schools and if they would prefer an Irish-speaking or English-speaking school.
The plan for the patronage handover was designed and endorsed by the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector. Although no firm timetable exists on how many schools will be handed over to different patrons and when, Quinn has already indicated that he would like to see the first batch of schools transition this June.
Quinn called the move revolutionary and said that this could represent the first time that parents are given a choice about what schools would best suit their children, be they religious or secular, co-educational, or single-gender.