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Irish Church board warns against school changes

24 February 2017

PA

Platform: the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny (centre), with the Training, Skills & Innovation minister, John Halligan (left) and the Education & Skills Minister, Richard Bruton, during the launch of the Action Plan for Education, at St Brigid's school, Dublin, last September

Platform: the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny (centre), with the Training, Skills & Innovation minister, John Halligan (left) and the Education & ...

PLANS by the Irish Minister for Edu­­cation and Skills, Richard Bruton, to change the rules of admis­sion to primary schools would create “huge difficulties” for parents of the Church of Ireland and other Protest­ant denominations in securing places for their children in a school of their own ethos, the secretary of the C of I General Synod Board of Education, Dr Ken Fennelly, said on Monday.

Currently, the Equal Status Act 2000 allows faith-based schools to make preferential provision on admissions for children of their faith; so that where a school is over­subscribed, the Board of Man­age­ment may give priority to children of families of a particular religious denomination.

”The rationale for this measure is well justified — if a Protestant school is prohibited from using religion as an admissions criterion, and it is over­subscribed, it would be difficult for the school to maintain a Protest­ant ethos among the school com­mun­ity, or to remain a school of that religion to any significant extent,” Dr Fennelly said.

”Patronage of the school by a par­ticular denomination or faith group would be devoid of practical mean­ing,” he said. “The Minister’s outline proposals are radical, and will either abolish this protection or, at the very least, directly restrict the power of Protestant schools to legitimately apply an admissions criteria based on religion where oversubscribed. In other words, local Protestant families could find themselves excluded from an oversubscribed Protestant school, and have few other options for their children to secure an education within their own ethos.”

Dr Fennelly said that attempts to undermine the legal protections that support the provision of faith-based education by religious minorities in Ireland would do little for equality or fairness in Irish education.

”There are other administrative approaches that the Minister can take to address the challenges pro­posed in the very limited areas where oversubscription to schools and lack of capacity are creating difficulties,” he said.

He urged school boards of man­age­ment, clergy, and parents to lobby the Minister with their ob­­jections during the current consulta­tion period.

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