Meeting pushes debate on secondary school

Tess Felder

Tess Felder

A PUBLIC meeting about the prospect of setting up an Educate Together secondary school in Kilkenny was attended by about 45 people on Thursday evening, including several councillors and TDs.

Among them, Deputy John Paul Phelan (FG) gave a commitment to raise the issue of greater school choice with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

“The major obstacle now is going to be the funding issue,” Deputy Phelan said when asked for his assessment of the idea. “The promotion of choice and options at second level is something that I would gladly favour, but it is a question of resources – which isn’t to say there won’t be new schools opened.”

“Now that there are people here tonight expressing their support, I certainly have no problem pushing that with Ruairi Quinn,” he said.

Educate Together currently runs 58 primary schools across Ireland, including Kilkenny School Project. The ethos of the schools is that they are multi-denominational, coeducational, child-centred and democratically run with active parental participation. In 2010, it was recognised as a second-level patron after campaigning to set up a school in Gorey, Co Wexford, although in that instance the new school was opened by the county’s Vocational Education Committee (VEC) instead.

Educate Together is currently in talks with the VEC in Lucan about whether a partnership can be formed for a secondary school there, and there are seven active groups campaigning to set up secondary schools, including in Kilkenny, Drogheda, Limerick, Dublin and Wicklow.

Asked about the curriculum that would be taught at such as school, Educate Together second-level education officer Ann Ryan said that although an exact curriculum has not yet been set out, “the curriculum would be the same that is delivered at second level schools around the country”.

Regarding student numbers, the organisation’s regional development officer Niall Wall said the Department of Education’s preference is around 1,000 students, with the average being 500 to 700 students. That would mean having about 150 in the first year, he said; as with most new schools, the idea would be to start with first-year students and build from there.

On the subject of staff recruitment, one audience member cited her experience with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, which set up schools mixing various religious traditions.

“In the first year you have a small cohort of teachers and you recruit new teachers every year,” she said. “We found that the calibre of teachers was very high.” Some even came in on lower salary grades initially, with the prospect of becoming heads of departments.

Speaking on the possibility of having an Educate Together secondary school in Kilkenny, Mr Wall said: “Our belief would be that no school has been opened by Educate Together – schools are opened by parents and communities. Our job is to support the people of Kilkenny to open an Educate Together school ... and we would hope that would happen quite soon.”

“We have opened 20 schools in the last decade,” he added. “The issue of opening a school isn’t down to our capabilities. That comes down to the Department of Education.”

Said local chairwoman Mary Galway: “From tonight, I think the push is going to start.”