The debate on denominational schools

The publication of the Ryan Report has led to a debate on the future of denominational education. 

There are two main viewpoints in this debate. On the one side, there are those who want to see parental choice as the core value in determining who provides education. Most people on this side of the argument believe that there should be a diversity of patrons, with the different Churches, the Gaelscoil movement, Educate Together etc running schools.

On the other side, there are voices who wish to see a one-size-fits-all, wholly State-run education system, in which the State both wholly funds and runs all schools. 

The Government Chief Whip, Pat Carey, was one of the first to come out and call for a transfer of control of primary schools to the State. 

A couple of weeks after the Ryan report was published, Mr Carey went on RTE programme The Week in Politics and said that there should be a gradual transfer of Church-run schools into State control. 

Mr Carey said: “I think that progressively, over a period of time, that schools should be divested from their current arrangements, whether it be trusts or directly by religious, into a State system.” 

Mr Carey said that “the time has come to redefine the relationship between the State and the different churches”. Part of this, he said, involved a transfer of education into State control. 

He added: “I think that won’t happen quickly, but I think it ought to happen.” 

Mr Carey repeated this view on RTE Radio on the following Monday. Increasing diversity, Mr Carey said, would mean the State “will have to over a period of time will have to become the provider of primary education for those who wish to have it.” 

In terms of secondary education, he said that there was “room and there should be room for those people who wish to have a denominational education for their children”. 

Every country in the world had such a system, he added. But he added that “the provision of education services at primary level should devolve over to the State”. 

In the media, figures such as Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole have called for a wholly State-run education system. 

On the other hand, Fine Gael’s education spokesman, Brian Hayes, is in the camp of those who believes that parental choice ought to determine the manner in which education is provided. 

Mr Hayes, in an interview with the Irish Catholic earlier this week, said that he believed in parental choice and educational diversity. Parental choice, added Hayes, “must be at the heart of education policy”. 

He expressed his total opposition to a “one-size-fits-all” approach, which would consist of the State both funding and running education provision. Instead, Mr Hayes favours a variety of patrons running schools, including the Churches, Educate Together and others. 

A statement by a Fianna Fáil spokesperson, also to The Irish Catholic, said that the party still supported the right of parents to send their children to publicly funded, Church-run schools. 

So, at present, the two major political parties still seem to favour parental choice. 

Labour’s position, however, is unclear. While they have called for a transfer of ownership of primary schools run by the religious orders from the Church to the State, they maintain that this need not involve a transfer of control. 

In the debate on the Ryan Report, Labour leader Mr Eamon Gilmore called for the transferring of “the physical infrastructure of our publicly funded schools…..into the ownership of the State” adding that this should begin “with the transfer to State ownership of the primary school network”. . 

However, Mr Quinn on Tuesday denied that this would involve a change in patronage. In a statement, Mr Quinn said that “the patronage of the schools will remain unchanged by this process, until the patrons decide otherwise”.