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.