How reconfiguring school patronage can be achieved

Published date24 January 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
Part of this increased pluralism is a growing wish by some parents for a greater choice of school type at primary, wishing to have their children educated in multi- or non-denominational schools. The Catholic patrons, the bishops, have stated clearly their agreement to work with the State to respond to this need for school choice, and have engaged in a pilot project to explore reconfiguration of patronage in several communities in Ireland

This is not an easy process, as while reconfiguration of patronage has national support, once it comes to implementing it on the ground in communities, it can run into opposition, as often the majority of parents in individual schools, including some parents who are not Catholic, are satisfied with their children's schools as they are.

However, the pilot process was intended to provide opportunity to learn and then to create for other communities a viable critical path to secure reconfiguration in a sensitive, efficient and effective manner. The process of reconfiguration will be a success if Church and State can work together, in sympathy with the needs of communities.

There is an opportunity for visionary leadership in both Church and State to realise that a recasting of the relationship between both, respectful of their respective roles, can work to secure the common good of all. There is no wish to return to past forms of relationships, but rather to forge something new.

Similar to the issue of reconfiguration of patronage, rather than working in some form of opposition, there is an opportunity for the State and its agencies to work with the Catholic education sphere to address the challenges of our time.

Of immediate relevance is the recent initiative by Pope Francis, who has launched the Global Compact on Education. The Compact intentionally resonates with the work of Unesco and is an invitation not only to Catholic educators, but to all involved in education, to form an alliance to answer the ecological challenges of our age. This challenge not only relates to the natural world, but to the crisis in human ecology. Such an alliance is intended by the Pope to generate peace, justice and hospitality among all peoples of the human family, as well as dialogue and encounter between religions and other communities of conviction.

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The Compact has seven elements: to place the human person at the centre of educational programmes; to listen to the voices of the young; to advance girls in education; to empower the...

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