Campaign to resist cuts for Protestant schools intensifies

Mon, Oct 5, 2009, 01:00

CHURCH LEADERS, teachers and parents are to intensify their campaign against education cuts for Protestant schools following a meeting in Tallaght at the weekend attended by more than 300 people.

Church representatives accused the Government of discrimination following the reclassification of schools in last October’s Budget, when ancillary grants for Protestant schools, covering such expenses as caretaker and secretarial supports, were removed.

Protestant schools have also faced an increase in the pupil teacher ratio, which now stands at at 20:1 in fee-paying schools in comparison with 19:1 in other second-level schools.

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev Dr John O’Neill said the reclassification of schools in the Protestant sector was discriminatory towards students who wished to be educated in the Protestant ethos.

“What is at stake are 21 schools serving the Protestant community, some hundreds of years old, which are supported by a large number of people who wish to exercise their right to be educated within their own ethos,” he said.

Former archdeacon of the Church of Ireland Gordon Linney said Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe’s position that all fee-charging schools could continue to employ additional teachers funded from fee income was not equitable.

“The Minister’s decision to remove funding and increase the pupil-teacher ratio will force schools to increase fees substantially, thereby creating huge financial difficulties for poorer Protestant families who will have to drop out, particularly in this time of severe recession,” he said.

Comparing Protestant schools with other voluntary fee-paying schools was not comparing like with like, the archdeacon said.

“In fairness some of these schools, through bursaries, do provide for some pupils from less privileged backgrounds. But their prime enrolment depends on the ability to pay. This is not the case for many Protestant children,” he said, adding that these schools were open to all Protestant children irrespective of their financial or academic status.

Rev Trevor D Gribben, education secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said the loss of State-paid teachers in Protestant fee-paying schools “will impact most on the country’s poorest Protestants, will close schools and will also ultimately cost the Government money” as these children will still have to be educated elsewhere.

He said that the minority rights of people of the Protestant faith had to be protected. “It would be a shame in the days, post Good Friday agreement and St Andrews [agreement] when we’re working hard throughout Ireland to recognise minority rights and encourage everyone to play their part in the State, that a minority down here are discriminated against and are not able at school to reflect the Christian ethos that their parents wish.”

He added: “The key thing is to get back to where we were last October and to reclassify these secondary schools.”

Rev Donald Ker, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, asked why it was necessary for the Government to change a system that, for 40 years, had recognised the needs of Protestant schools.

“Why has it been forgotten that, as a minority, Protestant pupils do not have the same choice of schools as their Catholic neighbours? Many families have no choice but to go to a fee-charging boarding school if they wish to have access to a Protestant ethos. I cannot understand why this is not adequately recognised,” he said