Teachers warn removal of ‘baptism barrier’ will cause chaos for schools

INTO says schools have no guidance for changing their admissions policies

The immediate lifting of the “Baptism barrier” will cause chaos in primary school admissions, the country’s biggest teachers’ union has warned.

On Wednesday, Minister for Education Richard Bruton commenced key provisions of the School Admissions Act which removes religion as a ground for priority entry into most schools for the coming academic year.

However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said the move is set to cause “chaos”in the school admissions process which is already underway in many schools for next September.

While the union is not opposed to the policy changes , it says schools have not received any specific guidance on altering their admission policies.


It says these new admission policies - which typically require approval by schools boards and patrons - will be required at a time when school leaders are already under considerable pressure.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said: "The Minister has put the cart before the horse by commencing provisions of the act with blatant disregard for school leaders who, will be expected to change policies in their schools without any regulatory guidance."

However, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the only change was the removal of religion as a ground for admission.

“That doesn’t create chaos. All the other elements of the admissions policy may continue to apply.”

Mr Bruton said the move will ensure greater fairness in school admissions by ensuring all families are treated on the same basis in most publicly funded schools.

Minority faiths, such as the Church of Ireland, will be allowed to continue to prioritise members of their religion in order to protect their ethos in cases where they are over-subscribed.

Mr Bruton said this exclusion had been introduced to help ensure children of minority faiths could still access a school of their own religion.

The new rules will apply to over-subscribed schools – about 20 per cent of primary schools – only on the basis that schools with spare capacity are obliged to accept all applicants, regardless of religion.

Mr Bruton has argued that Catholic children will still be able to access Catholic schools given that they make up the vast majority, 90 per cent, of all primary schools.

Ms Nunan, however, said the lack of notice regarding the changes will make life more difficult for teachers.

“Time and time again we have told this Department that the workload facing school leaders is too high and consistently requested that the introduction of significant legislative changes be better managed, in full consultation with the trade unions in this sector,” she said.

If the Minister was serious about addressing the workload concerns of school leaders, this month’s budegt will provide the “ideal opportunity” to do so.

“The restoration of middle management posts and the provision of one admin day per week for teaching principals would be a step in the right direction,” she said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent