Minister for Education Richard Bruton has highlighted the potential of community national schools as a way of reducing church patronage in primary education.
There are about 3,200 primary schools in the State and the Government proposes to build 400 of these multidenominational schools by 2030.
Bruton believes the church was well-disposed to Community National Schools, which provide an opportunity for faith-formation classes for a variety of different religions during the school day.
However, the Minister seems determined not to see the elephant in the room – the “baptism barrier” that allows 96 per cent of taxpayer-funded primary schools to favour children on basis of religion.
It is essential parents who want their children to receive a non-religious education have this constitutional right respected. It is incorrect to assume the tortuously slow provision of new schools is the best way to achieve this.
Moreover, the “multidenominational”
Community National School
model favoured by the Minister is far from non-religious and appears to be predicated on dividing children based on their religion, emphasising isolation, separateness and difference. Many parents want their children to go to the school around the corner with their friends but fear they will not be admitted for want of a baptism certificate. The Minister is wrong to assume such children and parents need special new schools – they value the friendship, community and convenience of the local school. Why not just make the education system we already have more inclusive?
While there is no doubt that more truly non-denominational schools (of the Educate Together model) are needed, first we must remove the religious enrolment criteria that dominate our national schools. It is deeply wrong children who play and grow up together can face State-imposed religious segregation.
The notion of “choice” has been much abused by politicians regarding religion in our national school system and it is heavily relied on by the Minister. “Choice” sounds modern and progressive but amounts to the ludicrous policy, in terms of religious diversity, of a school for everyone in the audience. Needless to say, this is impossible to provide. Moreover, morally and philosophically, this is the wrong path for a 21st-century education system.
The “baptism barrier” has seen young children of the “wrong” religion turned away from local taxpayer-funded schools while untold numbers of parents baptise their children, under State-imposed duress, to ensure the best educational opportunities. My friend Roopesh’s young daughter, Eva, was rejected by primary schools on the basis of her Hindu religion. She did not ask for a new school, Hindu or otherwise, to be built – she asked her father “Daddy, why can’t I go to school with my friends from creche?”.
The repeal of the discriminatory law, section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act, is a simple action. So why focus instead on a vast and expensive programme of school-building and divestment? More than anything, the proposal to provide 400 new schools by 2030 feels like a prolonged diversionary tactic.
Community National Schools that segregate children on the basis of religion are an Irish solution to an Irish problem – they are also a red herring. The real issue here is man-made and the solution is simple. Politicians created this objectionable law – now they must repeal it.
Paddy Monahan is a member of Education Equality, a voluntary organisation that proposes equal school access and the teaching of religion at the end of the school day