Planned schools admissions bill a form of ‘micro-management’

Catholic church spokesman says schools have constitutional right to faith-based policy

Fr Michael Drumm said it was inappropriate to legislate for a problem which affected just a small number of schools, namely those which had waiting lists. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fr Michael Drumm said it was inappropriate to legislate for a problem which affected just a small number of schools, namely those which had waiting lists. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

New legislation aimed at combatting discrimination in schools admissions policies is an unwelcome form of “micro-management”, the Catholic church’s leading spokesman on education has said.

Fr Michael Drumm, executive chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, which oversees the education sector on behalf of the Irish bishops, said “we are strongly of the view that admissions should not be dealt with by legislation”.

In addition, he warned that any attempt to prevent religious schools from giving preference to children of their respective faith would be unconstitutional.

Concern about the Admissions Bill has been stirred up in recent weeks in a number of Catholic secondary schools.

Past pupils at fee-paying, Holy Ghost school Blackrock College, Dublin and Jesuit school Belvedere College have written to alumni urging them to campaign against the bill.

The Belvedere students’ union has circulated a sample letter directed against Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, claiming the bill was “a stealth tactic, to destroy private institutions like Belvedere College”.

The schools are particularly opposed to a provision that would to limit their ability to guarantee places to children of past pupils.

When publishing the draft bill, former minister for education Ruairí Quinn proposed 25 per cent of places could be reserved for such pupils but an Oireachtas committee has since recommended no such quota be allowed.

The bill is aimed at removing “soft barriers” to admission by forcing schools to publish entrance policies, and to make it illegal for them to turn down a student on grounds of race, religion or disability.

Fr Drumm said it was the long-standing view of Catholic school managers that it was inappropriate to legislate for a problem which affected just a small number of schools, namely those which had waiting lists. “It’s a form of micro-management.”

He added “there is no doubt but faith-based schools – be they Catholic or Protestant – have a constitutional right to use faith-based conditions if they wish” in their entrance policies.

The bill will allow faith-based schools to give priority to pupils of the same religion but would prohibit, in line with existing law, anyone from being excluded when a place is available – unless it could be proven that they would undermine the ethos of the school.

The bill would also allow schools give priority to siblings of past or present students, and to the children of staff members, but only as part of a transparent process that is subject to external review.