‘Multi-racial’ oversight on school database questionnaire admitted
Only ‘Irish’ category included on the school questionnaire is ‘White Irish’
Parents of children born outside of Ireland have complained that the only “Irish” category included on the questionnaire for a planned online database for primary schools is “White Irish”. File photograph: Getty Images
A planned online database for primary school pupils has run into fresh controversy over the use of a narrower set of ethnic categories than those used in the census.
Parents of children born outside of Ireland have complained that the only “Irish” category included on the school questionnaire is “White Irish”.
“Certain families cannot accurately identify their children in this section of the form,” said Brendan Hennessy, a father of two adopted children from Ethiopia, who brought the issue to the attention of the Department of Education.
In a statement, the department admitted that its choice of categories “may fall short of what could be expected in today’s multi-racial Ireland”.
It also confirmed that the department presented parents with a different set of ethnic choices to those used by the Central Statistics Office, despite stating on questionnaires that “categories are taken from the Census”.
The department said it proposed “to change the categories in the database” to include such identifiers as ‘Black Irish African’ or ‘Asian Irish background’ and this would be communicated to schools ahead of future surveys. However, a spokeswoman said “nobody will have to redo anything this year”.
He said he believed it was “a genuine error but it’s a terrible mistake”. About 10 per cent of the primary school population was from the “new Irish” community and they would have difficulty identifying themselves on the form, he said. It was also “the wrong message” for the State to send out, he said.
Mr Hennessy said he supported the database in principle, but the error should be rectified by issuing a revised form. If parents leave the section blank, it would undermine the data-gathering process, he said.
Paying for information
The census offers four main headings for ethnic or cultural background: ‘White’, ‘Black or Black Irish’, ‘Asian or Asian Irish’ and ‘other, including mixed background’.
In contrast, the department questionnaire offers one ‘Irish’ category which is ‘White Irish’. It does, however, offer ‘Black African’ or ‘Any other Black background.’
Other changes from the census include the inclusion of ‘Roma’ as a category.
Mr Hennessy said he knew of one parent who had created their own box ‘Black Irish’ and filled it in.
The primary teachers’ union the INTO said it had queried the ethnic categories offered on the questionnaire at a meeting with the department before its introduction but was told they had been taken from the census.
INTO senior official Peter Mullan said it supported the idea of the database but the department had “definitely made a mistake” and he believed the questionnaire should be withdrawn or reissued. The letter to parents was “inadequate” in other ways in that it referred people to websites rather than giving them relevant information, and “it should have been written in plainer English”, he added.