Church of Ireland criticises school admissions proposal

Bishops say education debate should not ‘trample’ on the rights of minority faiths

The Church of Ireland has criticised a proposal to oblige religious schools to prioritise local children in their admissions. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Church of Ireland has criticised a proposal to oblige religious schools to prioritise local children in their admissions. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The Church of Ireland has criticised a proposal to oblige religious schools to prioritise local children in their admissions.

In a new statement, the church’s house of bishops also called for more balance and less hyperbole in the debate on faith schools, saying that “the rights of a minority denomination should not be trampled on in a race towards a populist understanding of pluralism”.

The statement said that “seeking to radically undermine the legal protections which support the provision of faith-based education by religious minorities in Ireland will do little for equality or fairness in Irish education”.

It said the proposed changes to school admissions rules “will do nothing to increase resources in specific areas.

“Instead, the change will merely create a new cohort of children who are excluded from education within their own faith.”

The bishops said that preventing “a Church of Ireland school from prioritising children from that community will lead to a splintering and a diminishing of that link, causing hurt, confusion and disillusionment”.

They said Minister for Education Richard Bruton was understood to have received “over 100 submissions from schools under Church of Ireland patronage from across the country” in relation to the proposed changes.

“Each school has expressed concern and alarm at the Minister’s proposals.

“This is a very strong voice from the members of our community, which must be heard and recognised.”

Media failures

The statement also said that “in recent years, faith schools have been poorly served, at times, by news media.

“Too often, there is a failure to ensure that hyperbole and opinion are counter-balanced with evidence-based facts.”

The bishops said they found it “difficult to reconcile what we know and experience about the schools under Church of Ireland patronage with much of the public debate around school admissions and primary education in general”.

Inclusivity and respect for diversity were “not new concepts to Church of Ireland schools”, they said.

The statement said Church of Ireland schools were “child-centred, co-educational and are faith-based, Christian in ethos”.

The bishops pointed out that “many non-religious parents choose schools under Church of Ireland patronage [for their children], as they see the ethos of Church of Ireland schools as an attractive moral and spiritual framework within which they wish their children to be educated”.

They said that, as school patrons, “we know that schools work hard not to allow any child to feel excluded on the basis of their (or their parents’) beliefs”.