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ERST Presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education & Social Protection - 18 June, 2014

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust was invited to attend, and make a presentation to, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education & Social Protection at their Committee Meeting of the 18 June, 2014. Below is the presentation submitted by ERST to the Joint Oireachtas Committee.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust has responsibility for 96 schools, secondary and primary, in the Republic of Ireland. The Trust advises and supports its schools and their students, teachers, principals and voluntary boards of management, members, directors and staff in line with our Charter (see enclosed). We were set up as an independent, professional trust in 2008, taking responsibility for these schools from the Christian Brothers.

Ethos or Characteristic Spirit

Edmund Rice Primary and Secondary Schools are Catholic Schools whose unique characteristic spirit is expressed in the Edmund Rice Schools Trust Charter.

The role of the Trust is to uphold our ethos and provide Catholic education in the spirit of Edmund Rice for the people of Ireland.

Our schools are open and inclusive, many are DEIS schools and are committed to serving the communities in which they are located.

Primary Schools – the Role of Trustees/Patron in relation to the Education Act

The legal role of the Patron is set out in Section 8 of the Education Act (1998) – the Patron appoints the Board of Management which manages the school on his behalf. In the case of the majority of Primary Catholic Schools and Parish Schools, the Patron is the local Bishop.

The Patron of our 34 Primary National Schools in the Edmund Rice Schools Trust is the local Bishop and not the Trust.

As Trustees of the Primary Schools, our role mainly relates to ownership of the schools and to the characteristic spirit i.e. Catholic Education in the Edmund Rice tradition.

The Patron has a legal role which includes the appointment of the Board of Management, the determining of the future status of a school i.e. deciding if it is to become co-educational, single sex, to amalgamate with another school(s), close etc. All such decisions are carried out after full consultation at local, Trustee, at Patron level and with the final agreement of the Minister for Education and Skills.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust is Trustee of 34 Primary Schools but is Patron of none. Therefore, ERST does not make decisions in respect of the future of any of our 34 Primary National ‘recognised’ schools under the Act. The Patron alone has the power to appoint the Board and to dissolve it, determine the status of a school and approve the appointment of the principal

N.B. As Primary Trustees, we hold none of the functions of Patron as outlined in the Act.

Ownership of Primary School Property

Most of our primary school properties are owned by the Edmund Rice Schools Trust and subject to Vesting Leases.  The Leases, as with any other School Vesting Lease, are in standard terms, and essentially comprise the Minister’s security in respect of grant monies provided for capital grants to the school.  As per the charitable objects set out in our Memorandum and Articles of Association, ERST seeks “to ensure and foster the advancement of education and to further the aims and purposes of Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition in colleges, schools and other educational projects in Ireland”, and “Generally to further the interests of Catholic education in Ireland and around the world”. Therefore, any property transactions must be in furtherance of the main objects of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.   Further, ERST is obliged to apply all of its assets (including any real property, such as a school site, and also other property, including the proceeds of the sale of a school site) towards its objects.  The disposal of ERST property is currently subject to the regulations of the Charity Commissioners, who require that any disposal of charitable property be at market value.

The Role of ERST in relation to its 60 Voluntary Secondary Schools.

Patronage structures are similar to primary schools but the Trust is the Patron as outlined in Section 8 of the Education Act of our 60 Secondary Schools. The Trust appoints the Board, makes decisions on the future of schools, and is responsible for the characteristic spirit, finance and property.

Decisions on the future of a school are made following a process of consultation at local level, with other Trustees, Diocesan Offices and the Department of Education and Skills.

Many of our second level schools are currently oversubscribed. We have a number of DEIS schools who provide a unique service to the communities where many young people are vulnerable, disaffected and in need of specialist support. Our schools provide examples of best practice in educational provision, attendance strategies and advocacy for those who are marginalised.

Parents of approximaely 36,000 students choose our schools.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust provides a network of support for all our school communities. Examples of best practice are shared, newly appointed principals and deputies are mentored and Boards of Management are provided with ongoing advice and support.

In the norm, our schools are managed by an eight person Board of Management who carry out their dedicated work on behalf of the Trustees, with reference to the legal requirements and in the service of their school community in a voluntary capacity.

The Trust is served by a unique group of skilled management personnel, past pupils, parents and teachers on our Boards of Management.

It is our belief that the sacrifices made by these volunteers should be properly acknowledged, valued and affirmed in more practical ways by the DES and society as a whole. We can never afford to take these volunteers who manage our schools for granted.

The Trust had a major role in sourcing Board members, training them for office and building a strong network among all those associated with or involved in our schools.

Funding for ERST Secondary Schools is a major issue for the future.

ESRI Report.

The State contributes less to children in voluntary schools than it does to those in VEC schools or community/comprehensive schools.

In 2013, The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) produced a substantial report entitled ‘Governance & Funding of Voluntary Secondary schools in Ireland’.  The report advised that, “In 2011/2012, there were 722 second level schools in Ireland, catering for 359,047 students. Of these, 52% were voluntary secondary schools, 35% were vocational schools and 13% community/comprehensive schools” (ESRI p.44). The ESRI “findings indicate a disparity in the funds available to, and the costs to be covered by, voluntary, vocational and community/comprehensive schools” (ESRI p.xiv).

“It is clear that voluntary secondary schools receive a significantly lower proportion of funding from the state and, as a result, are more reliant on voluntary contributions from parents and on general fund-raising”(ESRI p.146).

An area of inequality is the funding of the Trustee function. Trustees of schools have duties which are identified in the Education Act 1998. The Trustees of any school promote and protect its ethos and philosophy. “At least some elements of the trusteeship function of VECs (now ETBs) are funded through the block grant and the centralisation of specialist services and expertise at VEC level reduces the need for specialist legal and finance capacities at the school level. In contrast, the trusteeship function of voluntary secondary schools is paid for by religious orders or the Education Trust Companies, directly through providing support to schools and/or indirectly through the provision of specialist expertise on a voluntary basis” (ESRI p.156).

The Irish Constitution.

“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.” (42. 3 1°). 

The Edmunds Rice Schools Trust will therefore promote diversity in our schools, excellence in educational provision and provide ongoing support in particular for marginalised and disadvantaged communities.

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