Debate Room 'It's only fair that Catholic children are prioritised in Catholic schools'

Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, plans to legislate on the controversial school admissions system soon. But what about the right of minority faiths to prioritise pupils of their faith?

In a speech at a seminar organised by Equate, a campaign group in this area, Minister Bruton said that he believes that it is unfair that preference is given by publicly-funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school.

However, some people claim that faith schools must be permitted to carry out their purpose, and and that is to serve children and parents who share the faith of the school.

Is it fair to prioritise Catholic children in Catholic schools when they are publicly-funded? We asked two commentators to debate.

YES. The Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has initiated a consultation on schools’ admissions policies which has ignited a great deal of, not always well informed, debate.

There are, therefore, a few points I would like to clarify. Firstly a Baptism Certificate is not needed for admission to a Catholic school. For well over 95% of Catholic primary schools, everyone who applies is admitted. I joked recently that if Damien from The Omen turned up to one of our schools and we had space, we would take him. But it was to make a very serious point. No Catholic primary schools want to refuse any child for any reason.

Between 3 and 6% of Catholic primary schools are oversubscribed

There are more applications than places, and in these schools we do prioritise Catholic children. This issue is mainly confined to the greater Dublin area and to the commuter belt (though it can flare up elsewhere).

In Dublin our research indicates that 1.2% of applications that did not result in an enrolment in the current school year relate to baptism. We believe there is a growing problem of oversubscription in certain areas in Dublin and would urge Government action to address this as a matter of urgency, through the provision of new schools or the funding of enlargements of existing schools.

Right of minority faiths to priorities pupils of their faith

In areas where there is a choice of schools and schools are oversubscribed, we feel it is only fair that Catholic children from that area are given priority access to schools under Catholic patronage. These schools exist to provide Catholic parents with the opportunity for their children to receive an education in line with the parents’ wishes and beliefs.

We are also deeply concerned about the right of minority faiths to prioritise pupils of their faith attending their schools. Faith schools are at the heart of many minority faith communities and are absolutely critical to their sustainability.

There is a real danger that measures designed to hit a Catholic target end up harming an innocent bystander: small local faith schools. This would be deeply unjust.

Seamus Mulconry is General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association.

0077 Bruton on School Admissions_90500093

NO. I didn’t bow to the whole “baptising your child to get them into school” nonsense and here’s why.

First of all, I didn’t get a choice as to what religion, if any, I wanted to be born into. So my children can make up their own minds about these kind of things. Secondly, when I think religion, education doesn’t suddenly spring to mind, but ignorance does. And how I wasted a good chunk of my precious life on bended knee, praying idly, while the church perfected inequality and hypocrisy.

Five years ago (when my first child was born) education equality was finally being tackled by Ruairi Quinn, so the idea of a “baptism barrier” still being in place by the time my child started school seemed inconceivable.

Same old battle, different gates

Yet here we are today. And the church does not want to let go of their grip, as we found out when we went to enroll our child in the local Catholic primary school, a literal stone’s throw from our house.

Despite not having a Baptismal Cert the interview started off very “inclusively.” But as the enrolment meeting progressed, it soon became clear that the “baptism barrier” was just one big smokescreen for a wholly bigger issue. Indoctrination.

Of course our child was welcome to attend the school, but there were clear conditions which were non-negotiable.

  1. Children of other religious faiths and none must sit in the crying room of the church during rehearsals for Communion and Confirmation.
  2. Children of other religious faiths and none must do so unsupervised as their teacher will be at the altar preparing the other religious kids.
  3. Children of other religious faiths can “opt” out of religion class, albeit sit in the same classroom where religious instruction is taking place. I said to the principal that I can’t accept my child receiving mixed messages about virgins and birth which contradicts biology and evidence-based facts of life.
  4. During religion class children of other religious faiths and none can do their homework, or are encouraged to get more “involved”  by helping with the preparation for Communion, by colouring in some “Jesus Loves You” banner.

I offered (as a registered member of the Irish Teacher’s Council) to supervise my child and other children during religion class, as that would solve the school’s lack of teaching resources for class separation. I was flatly rejected.

Why the “baptism barrier” won’t wash

Minister Bruton, what you mean when you state: “Within this approach, there is capacity to allow religious schools to require parents or students to indicate some support or respect for the ethos of the school” is what is translated to the above experience.

This is my own lived and discriminating experience of trying to access equal education for my child in a publicly-funded school that promotes exclusion, segregation, ignorance, noncooperation and apathy.

Grace Vaughan is a wholly irreverent mother and writer who lives in Co Meath with current husband.

Catholic group says 95% of their schools don’t have a baptism barrier>

“It’s not something that should be up for vote” – can the problem with religion in Irish schools be solved?>

What do you think? Is it fair that Catholic children are prioritised in publicly-funded Catholic schools? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher
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