Schools face ban on linking admissions to church attendance

Greystones C of I principal resigns over ranking based on ‘parochial engagement’

Church of Ireland primary school St Patrick’s in Greystones, Co Wicklow, has insisted that it is a “diverse and inclusive school”. Photograph: iStock

Church of Ireland primary school St Patrick’s in Greystones, Co Wicklow, has insisted that it is a “diverse and inclusive school”. Photograph: iStock

 

Minority faith schools will not be allowed to rank children on the basis of how often they attend church services in their admission policies, under new laws due to come into force next year.

The use of “parochial engagement” in prioritising school admissions has sparked controversy following the resignation of a Church of Ireland primary school principal last week.

Principal Eileen Jackson resigned from St Patrick’s National School in Greystones, Co Wicklow, on the basis that the school was making admission to State-funded education a “collateral benefit” of involvement in the parish.

The Department of Education has confirmed minority faith schools will continue to be permitted to give priority enrolment to children on the basis of religion under new admission laws.

However, a spokesman said schools will not be permitted to rank these students “on the basis of the extent to which the child or his or her family are involved in local religious activities”.

The measures are contained in the School Admissions Act, which was signed into law last week. It is due to come into force for children starting school in the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Act provides for parents to give evidence – such as a baptismal certificate – of the child’s membership of a minority religion. The school will be allowed to take account of this only.

Baptism barrier

The new Act removes the “baptism barrier” for Catholic schools – which account for 90 per cent of primary schools – by banning religion as a factor in school entry.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the move was to ensure parents do not feel pressured to baptise their children to get access to local schools.

An exception was made for minority faiths schools to ensure children of that religion can still access a school of their faith.

The chairman of the board of management at St Patrick’s National School in Greystones , meanwhile, has insisted the school is “diverse and inclusive”.

Its admissions policy states that priority access is given to children who are “accustomed members” of the Church of Ireland parish of Greystones.

Admissions on this basis require the signature of the rector, who signs off whether the child is an active member of the parish.

There have been no changes to the admissions policy for the school and there are no plans for changes

It is understood that there are number of cases where local children baptised into the Church of Ireland were not given priority enrolment on the basis that they were not active members of the parish.

No new direction

Rev David Mungavin, chairman of the school’s board of management, said the school was not “going in any new direction and has no plans to do so”.

In a letter to staff and parents on Monday, he stated that there “have been no changes to the ethos of the school and there are no plans for changes.

“There have been no changes to the admissions policy for the school and there are no plans for changes.

“St Patrick’s National School has and will remain a diverse and inclusive school under Church of Ireland management.”

He said Ms Jackson’s resignation last Friday came as a surprise to him and the board.

Another source of controversy at the school involved a decision by the board of management to turn down an extra teacher the school was entitled to for the coming academic year.

Some parents claim the move was to prevent school numbers growing and potentially diluting its Church of Ireland ethos.

However, an education source said the board of management’s concerns focused on whether the school had the space to cope with extra pupil numbers.