The Catholic patronage system for National Primary schools

  • 8 October 2007
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The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin was reported recently as calling for parents not to “opt out” of integrated education by seeking to put their children in schools that did not have a broad ethnic mix. No doubt he's sincere. The problem is that the patronage system for the provision of primary schools in this country, so well used by the archbishop's own church, is inherently segregationist.


Up to now the Catholic Church has proved itself very capable of accommodating children of other religions where it is patron (92% of all state-funded schools), but only where there is sufficient capacity. Otherwise, Catholic children get priority even over older non-Catholics. Children from an atheist background are never properly accommodated.

Now we have vastly increased population diversity and the Church has announced that it cannot educate all children. Other patrons must be found. However, some of those may not turn out to be so inclusive, even when resources allow.

Vast cultural differences will ensure that non-Muslims will never attend schools where Islam is the patron. Radical Muslim elements, were they to appear, would succeed far better behind closed doors; being subject to a finitely resourced Department of Education inspectorate is no solution. The best, the only way to ensure transparency in schools is to have them populated by teachers and children from all backgrounds working together.

All through the recent troubles in Northern Ireland Cardinal Cathal Daly and others wrung their hands over the sectarian mayhem while resolutely resisting any proposal for mixed religious schooling. Being educated apart facilitated, and still facilitates, the continuation of some ludicrous myths believed by many children about their neighbours on the other side of the religious divide.

The patronage system for National Primary schools has got to go. Arguments that we cannot afford to do so should be rejected. The reality is we cannot afford not to.