Possible Reconfiguration of Schools: Edmund Rice Schools Trust (Continued)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection Debate

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Mr. Patrick B. Diggins: There is no such thing as an ideal way of going about an amalgamation and it would be foolish to think there was. It involves self-interest in some aspects of the case. I do not want to go into the specifics of the case in Cork, but it is no different than in any other place. It is a messy business.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the delegates for appearing before the committee to discuss this issue. I know that the roles of patrons, trustees and the Department are clearly laid out, but are the views of the community and parents taken on board and is their consent to any proposal required before it can be signed off on?

Mr. Gerry Bennett: There has to be a partnership approach. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien raised the issue of what was happening in Cork. We have a charter with five key elements, one of the elements of which is that we promote partnership in the school community. It is vital in any school that the parents have their say. There is a process in place to deal with matters that arise. In the case of an amalgamation, it can be the parents who instigate the idea of an amalgamation or some change in the status of the school. It is probably unlikely, but it could come from the parents. Normally in a situation where there is a change in status of a school, the board of management is asked to liaise with the parents' bodies and the teachers' bodies. The parents council has a statutory right under the education Act to be consulted on all matters to do with budgetary or other issues concerning the school. Certainly, the parents have a right to be consulted. They are one of the partners in the school and that is one of their rights. If the parents in Cork are opposed to the proposal, it falls. Schools are set up to serve children.

Mr. Patrick B. Diggins: The simple answer to Deputy Charlie McConalogue's question is that yes, parents are central to the decision-making process involved in any reorganisation.

Mr. Gerry Bennett: They have to be.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy Are members happy that we have exhausted this topic or do they have further questions to ask? It was informative to listen to the delegates. I take the point that in the context of things changing, it is a messy business. That is what is in prospect until there is a change. It seems there are fewer applications for the patronage of new schools by bodies other than the Education and Training Boards and Educate Together. It seems the religious patron bodies are consolidating. Am I correct in saying that is what the delegates were saying?

Mr. Gerry Bennett: We were asked to come before the joint committee to discuss amalgamations, the opening and closure of schools. The following three amalgamations have taken place: Scoil San Seamus in Dublin, Tramore, County Waterford and Doon, County Limerick. The Edmund Rice Schools Trust has not initiated proposals for amalgamations. There are ongoing discussions between the trustees and boards and we support and advise boards. These are sensitive and cannot always be placed in the public arena as they could have a negative effect on the school. There is agreement on the amalgamation of three primary schools in Wexford. There is also agreement that the three second level schools in Ennistymon - the CBS, the Mercy and the VEC schools - will amalgamate. We are very fortunate and privileged to be asked to become the patron of the new school in Carrigaline and the beautiful new school in Tramore.

From our perspective, there is not a great deal happening in terms of amalgamations, openings and closings. We came to this meeting hoping there would be a sharing of concerns. Our major concern is the future funding of voluntary secondary schools which account for the largest number of schools in the country. We have information to be gone through with members of the committee and would like to place this body of work with the committee because it is such a serious matter in terms of the future of trusteeship and schooling in Ireland.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy That issue has been raised with us. We can take it on board and raise it to see if something can be done about it. I am sure members will agree that schools should be funded equally, but personally I would have a preference for a State owned system in the long term. We have two types and the voluntary secondary school sector is the larger part and should be funded properly. There is common ground between us on that issue.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Will Mr. Bennett elaborate on that point, the extent of the differential and the impact it is having on schools?

Mr. Gerry Bennett: I was in a voluntary secondary school during the week that is suffering hugely because it cannot cover its bills. If it was in the VEC or some other system, it would not be in the same bother. Voluntary schools comprise 52% of schools and educate 58% of students. The VECs, now the ETBs, have 35% of schools but only 25% of the students, while community and comprehensive schools which comprise 12% of schools have 17% of the students. There are three ways of funding these schools. Voluntary schools are funded by way of a per capita grant, that is, per head of population in the school. ETBs receive a block grant from the Department of Education and Skills, while a different model applies to community and comprehensive schools. Where are the disparities? According to the ESRI's report, insurance costs are paid centrally for VECs; the pay of non-teaching staff is covered by the ETBs and so on. There is a list of items for which the voluntary secondary schools have to pay, whereas the State is paying for them in State schools in the VEC sector and also community and comprehensive schools. That works out to be a considerable sum of money.

  The ESRI states clear differences are evident between the three sectors. Voluntary secondary schools receive on average just over two thirds of their funding from the Government, while the proportion is much larger for vocational and community schools, with average figures of 90% and 93%, respectively. That is a significant difference in the amount of funding allocated to the schools from the State. The ESRI states it is clear that voluntary secondary schools receive a much lower proportion of funding from the State. That seem to us to be absolutely unacceptable - that children are afforded different amounts of moneys for their education, depending on what school type they are in. The knock-on effect is that 44% of voluntary secondary schools were found to use parental contributions to cover the cost of secretarial services, caretakers, light and heat, which is met by grants in ETB schools. Voluntary secondary schools are at the pin of their collar in trying to pay for light bulbs as they do not receive any extra State funding to meet educational provision.

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