Campaign seeks equality for children in education system
Poll shows majority believe school children should not be excluded based on religion
The poll of 1,000 people, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, was commissioned by Equate, a new campaign group seeking equality for children in the education system. Photograph: Getty Images
Michael Barron: “Real yearning for change in how education is delivered.”Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
Almost 85 per cent of people believe the education system should be reformed to ensure no child is excluded on the basis of their religion, according to a national poll to be published today.
The poll of 1,000 people, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, was commissioned by Equate, a new campaign group seeking equality for children in the education system.
The group’s director is Michael Barron, the founder of the LGBT youth group Belong To and who played a key role in the successful same-sex marriage campaign.
Former minister for education Ruairí Quinn is one of a number of individuals on the new group’s advisory council.
The poll conducted last month indicates almost half of people (47 per cent) would not choose a Christian school for their child if they had a choice locally. Another one in five respondents said they were aware of someone who had baptised their child just to get them into a local school.
Mr Barron said the findings showed the vast majority of people valued equality and choice in the education system.
“For the first time, this research shows there is a real yearning for change in how education is delivered right around this country,” he said.
“It’s time that our schools operate in the best interests of all our children. We want to see a school system with children at its core and one that meets the needs of each community.”
He said Equate will build a new “coalition for equality” to campaign for changes across four key areas.
In the area of admissions, it is seeking a change to the Equal Status Act that would ensure schools cannot discriminate against children based on their beliefs. These changes could be modelled on the recently amended Employment Equality Act, which gives greater protection to the employment status of gay teachers in religious-run schools.
It is also seeking to move faith-formation classes to the end or the start of the school day. This, it says, would allow families to opt-in to faith formation, as opposed to forcing families to opt out.
The Department of Education, it says, should develop and issue clear guidelines so children who wish to opt-out of a patron’s religious instruction have the right and opportunity to do so in all schools.
The group says the divestment programme also needs to be speeded up with new rules for school amalgamations that best serve and reflect the communities in which the schools are based.
In rural areas, the group says there is a need for a “community diversity protocol” to ensure the rights of all children attending a school are protected.
He said the reforms would mean all children could experience equality in their local school and no child would be isolated because of identity, family background, faith or nonfaith.
Equate, which is due to be formally launched today, has been pressing its case with political parties over recent weeks.