Church calls for response

During 2010 the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland carried out an extensive consultation exercise about the future of Catholic Post-Primary Education in the North. Over a thousand written responses were received in the Derry City Project Area. Over the past year, in conversations with Primary and Post-Primary Principals in the Derry City area, the Senior Trustees of the Catholic schools in Derry were encouraged to bring fresh ideas to the table which might help to inspire further discussion.

On Monday of this week, Monsignor Eamon Martin announced the publication of Together Towards Tomorrow - a Discussion Paper which offers the Senior Trustees’ strategic vision for Post-Primary Education in the Derry City Project Area. The full Discussion Paper may be downloaded from www.derrydiocese.org In publishing this Discussion Paper, he wishes to acknowledge, on behalf of the Trustees, the outstanding work of all those who contribute to the life of our Catholic schools. Monsignor Martin would welcome analysis, comment and feedback on these proposals by 31st May 2012.

Summary

n Le Chéile Partnership

The Discussion Paper proposes a partnership of distinct but linked Catholic post-primary Schools in the Derry area known as the Le Chéile Partnership. This will not involve an additional ‘tier of management’ but will be a catalyst by which the participating schools pledge to work together so that they can add value to the individual educational experiences they offer as distinct schools. It is expected that the partnership might evolve to full maturity over a period of five to ten years and that this evolution would be driven by a common vision for Catholic education within the partnership, and by discussions amongst the principals of the schools, reporting back to their Boards of Governors. The Paper offers a draft Vision Statement and Objectives for the Le Chéile Partnership and an illustration of it might evolve.

n Proposal for a structured transition from the use of academic selection as an admissions criterion

An examination of 2010-11 census data available from the Department’s Research and Statistics Branch illustrates that ‘non-selective’ schools have to carry a disproportionately greater concentration of pupils affected by multiple deprivation and special educational needs.

Moving away from the use of academic selection at age eleven could play a major part in tackling the multiple issues arising from inequity of access, underachievement and falling enrolments. A more equitable distribution of pupils affected by multiple deprivation, entitled to free school meals and/or having special educational needs, would enable all schools acting in partnership to share responsibility for disadvantaged young people, meet more effectively their requirements and celebrate their achievements.

‘Signposts’

It is proposed, therefore, that the Boards of Governors of the three grammar schools would signal in the coming months their intention to begin a phased reduction in the proportion of their pupils who would be selected for admission by academic ability. It is recognised that this would necessitate an application to the Department of Education for a change of designation to ‘bilateral’ status within a determined time period. Existing grammar schools would initially signal that they will select 66% of their intake by academic ability for a period of two years, and signal a further move to the selection of 45% of their intake by academic ability for the three following years. Evaluation and review would take place before the end of this five year transition period.

n Proposal for the creation of a Catholic Sixth-Form College or Colleges

The Senior Trustees invite the educational community in the Derry City Area to engage in discussion about long-term post-16 provision and to re-visit the possibility of establishing one or two Catholic Sixth-Form Colleges to serve the needs of the whole Catholic education community. It is anticipated that the Sixth Form College(s) would operate in a context where academic selection at age eleven was no longer being used as an admissions criterion in any of the area’s schools.

The Sixth-Form College(s), which would be part of the Le Chéile Partnership, would cater for the students of the Partnership, and would provide a breadth of curriculum at a variety of levels as well as offering pastoral care and young adult faith formation inspired by Catholic values and enriched by active chaplaincy engagement. The College(s) would have a distinctive Catholic ethos and would aspire to attract non-Catholic as well as Catholic students.

The Sixth-Form College(s) would be co-educational and might attract approximately 1800 students, operating on one or two sites. Such a distribution would mean that approximately 5200 11-16 pupils would remain to be catered for in the schools of the Le Chéile Partnership.

Because of the scale of the Sixth-Form College(s), distinctive educational provision, both academic and vocational, could be devised in order to provide a varied and sustainable post-16 curriculum offer.

In preparation for this, the 11-16 schools might be encouraged to develop a range of ‘specialisms’ and consideration might be given to ‘informed election’ at age 14 to various curriculum pathways within the Partnership.

n Co-education and Admissions Criteria

The tradition of single-sex schools is strong in the Derry City and any move to co-education for all would necessitate careful planning, professional development and some re-organisation. The Senior Trustees, however, commend for the consideration of the Boards of Governors of all our schools, the possibility of a move to co-education for all. They do so in the belief that such a move, in the medium term, would increase access, be family-friendly and would enrich the lives of our school communities. The Senior Trustees would be prepared to support development proposals from single-sex schools wishing to move to co-education and believe that the progressive phasing-in of co-educational provision for current single gender schools could begin to be managed within a five-year time frame.

Boards of Governors should make use of admissions criteria that are fully approved by the Department of Education as being fair and equitable. The Trustees would support in particular the use of family- and parish-based admissions criteria. Traditional links between post-primary schools and particular parishes should be retained and built upon. The Trustees encourage Boards of Governors to work together to ensure that competition for pupils between schools at admissions time is minimised in favour of a system that is equitable and supportive of collaboration and partnership within the Catholic family of schools. The Trustees recognise the difficulties posed by the simple use of ‘distance’ as a criterion.