The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, has outlined his response to the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.

The Minister said he supports the findings of the report on divestment and requested that the process leading to divesting of patronage in areas of stable population begin immediately.

Parents will be given full information on the different types of schools and the different possible patron bodies. Helplines will also be put in place during the survey period to deal with queries from parents. These surveys will commence in the autumn in 44 town areas, areas where diversity in primary school provision is already provided or planned, according to the 2011 census.

The Minister has also decided that the remit of the New Schools Establishment Group will be expanded to support the divesting process. The group will now be required: To advise the Department regarding undertaking the survey of parental preferences in the identified areas; to validate the completed survey work undertaken by the Department in relation to each of the identified areas before the outcome of the survey is transmitted to the relevant Patrons; to analyse the Department’s evaluation of the divesting options presented by the relevant Patrons in each identified area and the recommendations being made by DES regarding divesting of schools to alternative patrons to ensure these are in accordance with parental preferences and demand; and to report to the Minister and make recommendations (including indicative timelines for actions) regarding divesting of schools to alternative patrons in each of the identified areas having regard to parental preferences.

In September, the Minister will be calling for submissions from education stakeholders and any other interested parties with a deadline for receipt of submissions of end November.   

Following the consultation process, the Forum Report findings and recommendations in this area and the submissions received will be considered in drafting a White Paper as set out in the Programme for Government.  This work is to be completed by early 2013.

The Minister will request the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to immediately start exploring, with the education partners and religious interests, the development of an Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics programmes which will supplement existing faith formation programmes in schools as recommended by the Advisory Group.

Also in accordance with the findings of the report, Minister Quinn said that he had decided to proceed immediately with the analysis of the start-up and growth of Irish medium schools. This analysis will inform future policy development in this area.