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Statement from the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education

Statement from the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education

February 3rd 2009

The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) represents the Catholic Bishops and leaders of Religious Congregations in their role as Trustees of the family of Catholic Schools in Northern Ireland. At their monthly meeting in Belfast today the Commission discussed a range of issues including:
• the publication of guidance by Minister for Education Catriona Ruane MLA on Post-Primary Transfer 2010;
•The establishment of the Trustee Support Body to support the work of all Catholic schools in NI (with effect from Jan 1st 2010);
•The draft legislation on the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

The Commission voiced its disappointment at the failure of politicians to agree a legislated approach to the issue of transfer from primary to post-primary schools. It reiterated its view that an unregulated system of transfer is the least desirable outcome for children, for parents and for schools.

In acknowledging the guidance issued by the Minister for Education on Monday 2nd February, the Commission welcomed the period of consultation provided by the Minister as a further opportunity for politicians and others to resolve this issue in the best interests of the welfare of children and the effective delivery of education.  The Commission also acknowledged the value of the criteria for transfer recommended by the Minister and welcomed in particular the proposal that applicants entitled to Free School Meals should be able to gain admission to all post-primary schools at the same rate as all other applicants.

NICCE members reiterated the policy of the whole Catholic sector – espoused by Trustees and supported by CCMS and the Catholic Heads Association – that Northern Ireland should move away from the current process of academic selection by schools at age 11 to a more just, modern and fit-for-purpose process of transfer which gives every child and every school the opportunity to achieve their full potential. NICCE will continue to work for an end to the current outdated process of transfer, based on rigid academic selection.

The members of the Commission also stressed the need for the family of Catholic schools to continue to work in a cohesive and collective way based on the values of justice, communion and care for others which underpin Catholic Education. To assist Catholic schools in this regard the Commission announced the setting up of a Working Party to make recommendations on a clear and coherent way forward for the whole Catholic Sector.  This group will be chaired by Mr Matt Murray, former ETI Inspector and will include Principals nominated by their colleagues from Catholic Post-Primary Maintained and Grammar schools. The working group will report to the Commission within five weeks.

NICCE will keep Principals and Boards of Governors of all Catholic Schools informed of its recommendations for a cohesive way forward for the whole Catholic Sector in light of the advice received from the Working Group.


The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) was set up in 2005 to co-ordinate the work of all Catholic School Trustees in NI. The six Northern dioceses and all the religious congregations with schools in NI have each nominated three members. The current membership is:
Bishops Patrick Walsh, Seamus Hegarty and Donal McKeown and
Sr Eithne Woulfe (Sisters of St Louis), Sr Nellie McLoughlin (Sisters of Mercy) and Br. Eddie Coupe (Irish Christian Brothers).
Bishop John McAreavey attends meetings as Chair of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

The responsibilities of NICCE include:
• Working to maintain a cohesive Catholic education system;
• Liaising with Government and other statutory bodies in regards to Catholic education;
• Developing the new Trustee Support Body, with effect from Jan 1st 2010;
• Co-ordinating Trustee interests.

Post-Primary Transfer Working Group 
February – March 2009

The current uncertainty regarding transfer is causing serious tensions within the Catholic family of schools. Some selective schools are under pressure to use academic criteria to select all pupils. Faced with that reality, many non-selective schools feel entirely left out of the debate and know that they will have to bear the full brunt of the ongoing demographic downturn. Canon Law and Civil Law have different emphases and the respective roles of Trustees, Governors and Principals are unclear to some. There are various agendas which would happy to see the fragmentation of a unified Catholic sector. This Working Group is being set up to manage that situation in view of the fact that the co-ordination of all Catholic schools will come under the Catholic Trustee Support Service from Jan 1st 2010.

In the light of current political, educational realities and the Trustees’ stated policy on selection, to propose to Trustees via NICCE:
•  An agreed strategy for the Catholic sector in the event of a possible unregulated system of transfer in the immediate future;
•A unified Catholic sector transitional transfer arrangement for 2010 - and any subsequent years of a limited transition period - in the event of there being a regulated system of transfer;
• An agreed method of ensuring that the current and similar tensions between Catholic schools can be averted in the future;
• Any associated proposals on the development of policy regarding transfer.

a.  Primacy of the Core Values of Catholic education as stated in
•     Catholic Education – The Vision (2005)
•     The Core Principles of the Post Primary Review.(2007)
•     The Irish Bishops’ Pastoral Letter The Catholic School – A Vision for Life (2008)

b.  Policy
• There is one family of Catholic schools. This is recognised and accepted by DE in its proposals for sectoral support.
•  All Catholic schools should work to maximise their collaboration in the interests of all young people.
•  The current policy of Trustees - echoed by CCMS and CHA – is that we that we should move from selection by schools on academic grounds to informed election by parents and pupils.

c.    Roles
• Ultimately it is the Trustees as school owners who determine policy directions for all Catholic schools.
• Trustees, CCMS, Governors and Principals have complementary and supportive roles to play in policy development and implementation across the sector and within each school.
• No Catholic school or group of schools can act unilaterally on key policy issues as the interests of the Catholic family of schools have precedence over those of any individual school.
• The rights and choices of all parents are acknowledged.
• Primary schools play a key role in this process.

Reporting to: Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education by March 10th 2009

Membership:     CCMS: 3;  CHA: 3;
                       Chair appointed by NICCE.
                       Secretary: one nominated by NICCE
CCMS and CH may appoint their own secretarial support. 

Timeframe:      4 working days between February 2 and March 9th.
Substitution cover will be paid by NICCE in respect of school based members.

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