Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Catholic schools and the baptism barrier

Are parents struggling to get their unbaptised children into Ireland’s schools? Not according to primary principals

Baptism barrier: just 1.2 per cent of children who enrolled at schools in Greater Dublin had been refused admission for a reason relating to baptism certificates. Photograph: E+/Getty

Baptism barrier: just 1.2 per cent of children who enrolled at schools in Greater Dublin had been refused admission for a reason relating to baptism certificates. Photograph: E+/Getty

 

What did we learn this week? That just 1.2 per cent of children who enrolled at schools in Greater Dublin had been refused admission because of the so-called baptism barrier.

Said who? The Catholic Primary School Management Association. Its general secretary, Seamus Mulconry, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills this week that “in almost 95 per cent of our schools we take everyone who applies”.

What did he base that statistic on? The association sent forms to 456 schools in Greater Dublin, and 384 responded to questions about admission policy and baptism certificates. Only 17 schools – just 4.4 per cent of the total – had refused enrolment for a reason relating to baptism certificates. All of the 17 schools were oversubscribed, with an average of 2.1 applications per place.

So? The survey suggests that the problem is not with baptismal certificates but with a shortage of school places. In 314 of the schools 26,968 applications were received for 19,218 places. Of 7,750 unsuccessful applications only 96 – the 1.2 per cent we began with – were refused because of issues relating to a baptism certificate.

Does that mean just a tiny bit of discrimination is going on against children who don’t have baptismal certificates? No. None at all.

So what might be going on? Critics say it’s probably worth taking into account factors such as all the nonpractising parents who seem to be getting their children baptised only so they’ll get school places. After all, they say, Mass attendance is down, and a third of marriages are civil, yet still baptisms rose between 2003 and 2013. In one Dublin parish 25 per cent of parents weren’t married in church but still had their children baptised. And then, they argue, there’s the question of whether a survey by Catholic-school principals can really be the best source of information.

Are you saying they lied? Not at all. But it’s parents who should be consulted, according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. “Everyone is in agreement that change is needed,” he said, “but the actual decisions will be made at local level. We haven’t gathered the right information. We haven’t really asked the people.”

When did he say that? Before the survey results were published? He said it on Thursday last week. Parents haven’t been asked the right questions to gauge support for divesting schools from Catholic patronage, he said. “If the current Catholic school is a good school then people won’t want change. The families with two- and three-year-olds are the ones we should be talking to.”

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