As you are aware the Government is proposing to introduce massive changes in the administration of education. This has profound implications for Catholic education and the planning and provision of schools at a time of increasing pressure on public spending.
Schools throughout the five Dioceses face growing challenges. The reduction in funding for both the schools and their support structures is a significant challenge. These difficulties will only be compounded by the on-going reduction in pupil numbers. This in turn will add to the large number of vacant places in schools and Government has targeted the removal of these surplus places. One positive aspect of this is that there is also an opportunity to improve the quality of school buildings through Government investment.
Nevertheless there are concerns that the ethos of schools will be diminished. While it is appropriate that Government brings forward proposals to ensure cost effective provision this is not the sole principle that should apply. We must plan proactively to ensure that parents will continue to have access to a Catholic education. It must continue to be the case that those entrusted with responsibility for Catholic education decide upon its planning and provision. Some of those decisions, however, will be extremely difficult.
The Department of Education will no longer respond to a proposal for the replacement of a school, expansion or a significant refurbishment without taking into account the places available in the general area. Trustees, to ensure the maintenance of the network of parish schools, need to respond to this policy by pro-actively planning ahead.
The Trustees, both Diocesan and Religious have already established processes to consider provision at Post-Primary level. Structures and mechanisms are in place and a number of projects have been launched. Senior Trustees have determined that there is a need for a similar strategic approach to primary provision across all schools in every Parish.
To this end CCMS has been instructed to prepare a five year strategic plan for reviewing primary provision across all Dioceses. CCMS officers will draft a schedule identifying when Parishes will be reviewed for agreement by the Trustees. The purpose of the review is to examine the long term needs of each Parish, the appropriateness of current provision and to recommend options for the future including any opportunities for capital development.
In adopting this approach it is anticipated that Catholic Maintained schools will gain in many ways. Firstly the approach will promote a balanced, consistent and transparent approach that will allow maximum engagement. We will produce a schools estate which is modern, fit for purpose and secure for the foreseeable future. While all schools will be involved many will not be subject to significant change and all schools will have an input into consideration of options for the future. This approach will also support all Trustees in discharging their responsibilities.