Parents denied a voice in schools’ controversy

By Maggie Hyland

There has been much scrutiny in the national media around the changes currently taking place in primary education in Ireland. However, these changes are largely taking place in Dublin 15 and there needs to be more local debate on primary school provision in our community. As a group of parents we are fully aware that the silence on these issues does not reflect the concerns of parents on the ground.

In fact, if we were to describe the feelings of parents in Carpenterstown and Clonsilla it is safe to say they are weary from trying to argue with a system that plans education with the needs of the child and its parents as the end point rather than at the very start of the consultative process.

Most of us have been refused enrolment in the schools closest to us, St. Patrick’s or St. Mochta’s, and this has forced us to look at our children’s primary education with a more critical eye. That is how our group developed as each of us learned of the merits and values of one particular patron – Educate Together – and knew it offered the type of education we were seeking for our children. Many other local parents felt the same way and pre-enrolment for our proposed school – 260 children – has been unprecedented in Educate Together’s thirty year history. For their part Educate Together were delighted to fill the breach and were confident that with such numbers our proposed school would become a reality.

The Minister for Education has stated that the new model of primary education VEC schools will only be piloted in areas where no other patron exists. This is clearly not the case in the Diswellstown/Carpenterstown area but the introduction of a local VEC primary school continues regardless. The development of this school has also taken place without a single word to local parents. There has been no consultation on the matter and no discussion of the very fundamental issues surrounding this new multi-denominational model.

Unfortunately, given very little choice in the matter and backed into a corner, parents are forced to accept this. Likewise many parents last year and this year have been forced to accept the ludicrous situation that has evolved in our parish schools. So those who live beside St. Patrick’s NS get in their cars and drive to St. Mochta’s NS. Those who live across the road from St. Mochta’s NS get in their cars and drive to St. Philip’s NS in Mountview. Meanwhile, a new VEC primary school will open in the Phoenix Park in September where there is as yet no local need and you begin to think that if this were not such a serious issue it would make great comedy.

Scoil Choilm emerged out of the horrible situation that arose last year as children were excluded from their local schools and bussed to a temporary facility. These children now deserve not only to be accommodated but to be cherished in our education system. But who decided that Scoil Choilm’s patron should be the VEC and why were we as parents not consulted? In fact, knowing that Educate Together was a popular local choice, why were they not asked to act as Scoil Choilm’s patron? This would have been a good result for everyone.

This brings us back to the education agenda being doggedly pursued in Dublin 15. Why locate a pilot school in an area where a patron is already waiting in the wings with a bulging enrolment list and open arms to all comers? Given that the new local VEC will be a state facility paid for by us as taxpayers, is it not right to expect that Carpenterstown Educate Together be allowed temporary accommodation in that facility in those classrooms which will be lying empty in September 2008?

Finally, it is not as if a Carpenterstown Educate Together was a completely new concept. In 1999 a local start up group with considerable support from parents tried to establish an Educate Together National School. Planning permission for accommodation was appealed by a group associated with a local denominational school but a deal was signed regarding the future of the school by the Department of Education and Science, Dublin 15 Educate Together and Educate Together.

This agreement specified that in return for the school agreeing to be relocated to Beechpark Avenue in Castleknock (now Castleknock Educate Together), the Department of Education would retain a reservation for a further Educate Together National School in the original planned hinterland of Carpenterstown, Luttrellstown, Porterstown, Diswellstown. Now, almost 10 years later, it is time to honour that deal.

This is a crucial time for primary education in Ireland but it is our area that will feel the first effects as we are being used as a test case. It is imperative that the issues be thrashed out with all points of view getting a fair hearing. We as a group we will be hosting a public meeting in the coming days to provide such a forum for parents, teachers, local representatives and people of all ages and stages of life who want to be involved in how our local community is shaped. Every person and every point of view is welcome.

For further information on Carpenterstown Educate Together, the upcoming public meeting or for a pre-enrolment form visit www.carpenterstown-et.com

Maggie Hyland is chairperson of the Carpenterstown Educate Together Start Up Group

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