A LEADING international think-tank has proposed that the Government set up new state-run primary schools to better cater for the new multi-ethnic pupil population.
The new state schools could even take over some existing primary schools, the majority of which are run by the Catholic Church. The radical proposals are contained in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which suggests that the present system of individual patron bodies running 3,300 primary schools is out of date.
At present, one in 10 primary school students are immigrants. The report says that the current patronage model has started to show strains, as immigration adds to the diversity of Irish society.
One alternative is to increase the diversity of patron bodies. The number of multi-denominational and interdenominational primary schools has increased from 39 to 67 from 2005 to 2008. But the number of non-Catholic schools is still small. The number of schools under the patronage of Catholic bishops has only dropped slightly–from 3,039 to 3,027–over the same period, says the report.
Schools in areas where the numbers of immigrants would be too small to justify the setting up of additional establishments could have difficulty in preserving their ethos while accommodating diversity. “A more radical option would be to channel expansion, and even transfer the authority over existing institutions away from the system of education provision by patron bodies,” it adds.
The OECD’s report quotes a study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which shows that one-fifth of students in Ireland may not be able to enrol in their school of choice. The OECD says it would be useful to explore the feasibility of establishing state schools, separate from the structure of patron bodies. The Community National School is being piloted in two schools under the patronage of Co Dublin Vocational Education Committee.
“These new schools are multi-denominational. If they prove to be effective, the Irish authorities should consider creating net new capacity and re-deploying existing capacity through this channel,” it adds.
The OECD also recommends that existing schools should network and co-operate to ensure a more even distribution in the enrolment of immigrant students. Integration Minister John Curran said the report would help the development of the new Intercultural Education Strategy which will be finalised shortly.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said that a joint department-VEC steering group was overseeing the development of the new Co Dublin schools including arrangements for the delivery of religious education and evaluation of the pilot phase.