06/10/2009

Republic's Minority School Cuts Opposed

Cutbacks in non Catholic schools across the Irish Republic are being opposed.

It has emerged that Protestants in the State are to 'take the fight' to the Daíl to try to halt cuts to school budgets.

The threat of closure looms large for many of Ireland's Protestant Secondary Schools which cater for pupils from the Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker communities because of current and prospective government cost cutting.

The Committee on Management for Protestant Secondary Schools has issued a paper on the potentially devastating impact of the McCarthy Report and its recommendations on their schools and have called for equitable treatment from government.

"There is widespread anger across the Protestant community fuelled by the evident lack of understanding of, or indifference to, the particular dynamics of the sector by the Department of Education," said Eleanor Petrie, who is representing Protestant parents.

"We fully recognise that difficult decisions face this administration as they tackle Ireland's economic woes but there is a growing feeling that, when it comes to education cuts, that this minority community is being discriminated against. I do not make that charge lightly.

"Any further deterioration of the pupil teacher ratio will lead to an intolerable financial pressure on many of our schools and will result in closures, particularly in rural locations."

Last weekend, hundreds of parents, teachers and church leaders from across the country gathered in Tallaght, Dublin, for what was described as an "unprecedented gathering" to oppose the education cutbacks, which, it is claimed, could threaten the future of Protestant education in the state.
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The meeting was organised to kick-start a vigorous public campaign to influence the government to restore parity for fee-paying Protestant schools, of which there are 21, with the Catholic free education system.

"Anger is palpable across our community because the right to educate our children to a Protestant ethos is being eroded," Eleanor Petrie said at the event.

Protestant schools have also faced an increase in the pupil teacher ratio. The ratio now stands at 20:1 in fee-paying schools, compared with 19:1 in other secondary schools.

Ms Petrie warned that some schools may be forced to close: "All we are asking for is the restoration of parity in pupil teacher ratio with the Catholic free education schools to whom we have been aligned for generations," she said.

"If (Education] Minister O'Keeffe fails to restore parity, many poorer Protestant families will no longer be able to send their children to schools of their faith. Schools serving rural communities may well be forced to close."

The Archbishop of Dublin, John Neill, who spoke at Saturday's event, added: "The reclassification of Protestant schools was, in my view, not driven by financial considerations but by a very determined effort within the Department of Education to strike at a sector which they have totally failed to understand."

During the past summer, the annual conference of the Methodist Conference in Ireland was also told that the Minister for Education had failed "to show any real understanding of the effects on Protestant schools of the measures taken".

The General Secretary of the church's Board of Education, Dr John Harris, said in June that some of the cuts "seem particularly insensitive" and, at post-primary level, were "considerably severe and particularly so for Protestant fee-charging schools".

(BMcC/KMcA)

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