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Time for debate on Primary Education policy?

THE decision by the Department of Education to limit intake to some Educate Together National Schools (ETNS) is causing concern to parents who have opted for this form of child-centred, multi-denominational primary education for their children. While the Department, in response to some lobbying on the issue, have promised to assess the situation, Educate Together, the patron body for a number of multi-denominational schools affected, suggests a new policy has been put in place to ensure divested schools do not adversely affect existing primary schools in the area.
Many of the schools which opened under the Government’s process to divest patronage of Catholic schools say they are being forced to turn away large numbers of junior infants because of what they say are new restrictions on their pupil-intake.
Instructions directing schools in Castlebar and Tuam, in addition to others in Tramore, New Ross and Trim, to adhere strictly to a half-stream intake of 13 infants for the 2018/19 year, is raising alarm bells and putting some parents who moved to these town specifically because of the presence of the equality-based ETNS in a quandary.
“These schools are now effectively being told to turn away large numbers of families who will not now be able to access the equality-based education they had hoped for their children,” Educate Together said in a statement.
In place of religious instruction programmes, which are taught in denominational schools, Educate Together schools teach the Learn Together Ethical Education Curriculum which supports children's moral and spiritual development and teaches children about different belief systems. Several years ago, the Department of Education embarked on a strategy to reflect the changing reality of how parents wanted their children to be educated and provide a sufficiently diverse range of primary schools to cater for children of all religions and creeds.
This ‘patronage divestment strategy’ resulted in a number of these non-denominational schools springing up around the country. For Educate Together’s part it says it agreed to open these schools on the basis of their long-term viability as full stream developing schools. The demand for these schools is also increasing, reflecting Ireland’s increasing desire for diversity.
However, there must be a fear, particularly for those in some rural areas, that any restriction on intake will limit these schools’ long-term liability. Similar thoughts may be in the minds of those in Westport who, it seems, may be successful in bringing the third Educate Together National School to Mayo.
Perhaps it is time for some debate on the issue and gestures of comfort from the Department to allay the fears of parents who feel the ETNS system will provide the best educational outcomes for their children.