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Unbaptised and bottom of the list - frustrated and worried parents speak out

‘Baptise your child just to get into a school or don’t baptise but then fear your child may be ostracised from their class group?’

AS 96% OF Irish primary schools are religious-run, enrolment policies are coming under more and more scrutiny each September. In this three-day special series, TheJournal.ie explores the role religion plays in our classrooms and what’s being done in the sector.

REGISTERED WITH EIGHT schools but constantly bottom of the list – one mother tells how her son might not get a school place purely because he isn’t baptised.

Sarah Lennon’s son Ethan is due to start primary school in September 2017 – but that’s far from a certainty.

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Lennon described to TheJournal.ie how Ethan is automatically at the bottom of the list of the three local Catholic schools because he is not baptised. ”In the Catholic schools, we are down the bottom of the list when it comes to enrolment policies.

I was aware of the issue of baptism when it came to school places but it’s only when you really start to look at it that you see how scary it is.

“We’re now seeing that we are category six or category eight in the enrolment policies of our local schools. That’s when you realise: this is a nightmare.

Children who don’t live in the local area but who are baptised are all given priority over Ethan. And as they are all oversubscribed, we have little chance of getting into any of them.

“In the Church of Ireland school, Ethan is even lower down the list, in the eighth category.”

shutterstock_442070446 Source: Shutterstock/nd3000

His best chance is an Educate Together school. They have different enrolment policies, but for the most part, it’s on a first come, first served basis.

Because Ethan was born in February – he’s behind all the children who were born in the autumn and the winter.

As a result, Ethan is listed in the 100s in a couple of Educate Together schools and is “number 300-and-something” in the third, Lennon says.

When you consider that most of the schools have two junior infant classes, and therefore 50 places, it doesn’t give you much hope.

None of the schools will start allocating places until next year, until then Lennon and her husband are on tenterhooks.

Before birth 

However, it’s not just parents with young children that are feeling the fear – the worry of securing a school place for an unbaptised child is something that can cause stress as early as pregnancy.

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One expectant mother, who is an atheist, told this website that the shortage of school places for children who aren’t christened is forcing her to consider baptism:

“There are no Educate Together schools in our area, the closest being over an hour away, and the only multi-denominational primary school is a gaelscoil.

I am very aware of how few places there are in the local schools and I want to do everything I can to ensure one for my child, but hesitate at a christening.

She described how baptising her baby “for the purpose of a school placement would feel like a massive lie” but she also worries about what sort of moral lessons her child would be taught if she did go ahead with the baptism.

“If we were to do so and our child successfully gains a place in our local national school based on said christening, how can I trust the Catholic Church to guide him or her in matters of faith and morals?

To have an institution that is notorious for scandals and corruption be guiding my child in their developing faith, or lack thereof, is simply terrifying. How can I know exactly what is being said and taught to my child in these classes?

“If it were a matter of say simple scripture instruction, perhaps this aspect wouldn’t bother me so, but it’s not just that is it? The moral lessons taught by the church I find unacceptable in many ways; my husband and I are very open-minded in our world views and unfortunately that is not the reputation of the church.

shutterstock_170772638 Source: Shutterstock/blue caterpillar

“So what will we decide? Will we christen the child, going against our own beliefs and morals? Or will we take a chance and hope that the policies regarding school placements change between the birth of our child and its first day at school? I honestly do not know.”

‘I don’t want them feeling left out’

These parents are far from alone in their struggle to get a school place – or in their concerns over the religious experience their children will have in schools.

Baptise your child even though you don’t practise religion so you get into a school? Or don’t baptise your child and fear they may be ostracised from their class group? – that’s the choice that some parents outlined to TheJournal.ie at a protest in Dublin city centre last month.

Hundreds of parents marched to Leinster House in a “Gathering for Change” demonstration organised by Education Equality on 3 July.

Here’s what they had to say:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

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Read: Religious education in schools: Two sets of rights in conflict>

Read: ‘It tends not to be prime property that’s handed over’: 8 schools opened in 3 years under divestment>

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