A SO-CALLED “baptism barrier” that favours children from religious families’ gaining entry to faith-run primary schools in the Irish Republic is to be removed by the Education Minister, Richard Bruton, after a public consultation process announced on Monday.
Responding, the Church of Ireland Board of Education warned against any change that would damage the principle of catering for the ethos of minority faiths in schools under Protestant patronage.
Under current regulations, schools may discriminate in favour of children baptised in their own faith (the vast majority being Roman Catholic) for admission when the school is over-subscribed, including children from outside the school catchment area. Opponents of this practice point to the demand by some school authorities for baptismal certificates to prove a child’s eligibility, and argue this to be discriminatory.
The Minister has issued a four-point proposal for discussion, which includes prohibiting schools from offering places to pupils of their own religion outside their catchment area, where a non-religious child who lives near by would be excluded; a “nearest school”, where religious children of that particular denomination may be preferred above others, being closest to the child’s home; a quota system allocating a specific number of places to children of that ethos; or an outright ban on religious schools’ using faith as a reason for admission.
The majority of primary schools in the Republic are under RC patronage; the Church of Ireland holds most of the remainder, accounting for 227 schools with 15,000 pupils, and a further 10,000 at secondary level Protestant-run schools.
The C of I education board welcomed the acknowledgement by the Minister of the necessity to protect the minority ethos, but pointed out that Church of Ireland and Protestant primary and secondary schools are embedded in communities across Ireland as local schools, and serve a variety of students at primary and second level, from various faith traditions and family backgrounds, and have done so for generations.
In a statement, they warned that such schools “have long been respected for their lived commitment to pluralism and diversity. The ability of religious-minority schools to continue the key role they play in educational provision in modern Irish society is vitally important to safeguard.
“It is an expression of active participation by minority religious groups in modern Irish society as conscionable minorities who are concerned with contributing to the civic common good of diversity of experience for children, leading to a respectful and engaging citizenship without discrimination, in service to the common good.”
It goes on to highlight “the existing practical reality” that Protestant schools exist to serve their students, who are entitled to receive their primary and second-level education within an ethos that is conducive to their own beliefs and that of their parents/guardians/family.