Primary schools are inclusive places

Respecting difference

A chara, – I would like to disabuse David Graham of his belief that Catholic ethos schools endure, tolerate and treat our pupils as outsiders (“Religious evangelism soaks into every pore of the Irish school curriculum”, Opinion & Analysis, May 2nd).

As principal of a senior urban primary school for boys, we welcome, embrace and treasure each and every one of our pupils. Our pupils come from Africa, Asia, eastern and western Europe and South America, as well as from Irish backgrounds. We have welcomed Rohingya, Syrian and Ukrainian refugees and indeed we welcome all children regardless of their religion or lack of it. Just recently we have supported our Muslim pupils throughout their Ramadan fast and celebrated their Eid on its completion.

We do not isolate “opted-out” pupils but instead provide them with work in other curricular areas in the absence of any other supervision options. Furthermore we acknowledge that while sacramental preparation can be intrusive, we try to mitigate against any negative impact on pupils’ education by arranging cover for the class teacher and I can inform him that we have not had a diocesan inspection in over a decade.

Finally, while not being fully aware of the context, it would appear to me that the reading lesson he referred to was actually a religion lesson, as I am not aware of any current primary English reading book or workbook which refers to the crucifixion.

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In his article, Mr Graham used language such as “discrimination” which is inflammatory and casts aspersions on the great work being done in primary schools which I would argue are some of the most inclusive places in the country. In my opinion, his ire would be better directed at the policymakers rather than the schools that create safe and welcoming spaces for all children on a daily basis. – Is mise,

JOHN KELLY,

Principal,

Bishop Foley

National School,

Carlow.

Sir, – As Barack Obama observed, democracy is sometimes messy; sometimes frustrating. This is true, particularly when negotiating change. Often, those who believe they know best can become frustrated with the process, wishing to cut the Gordian knot using the imposition of a top-down solution, overriding the “awkward” views of local communities.

Such was the tone detected from your opinion pages in a piece unusual in its hyperbole, but typical in its frustration with change negotiation.

The Catholic patrons have committed to change in school patronage diversity at primary level, recognising the needs of our more pluralistic society, and in line with the Catholic duty to serve the common good. Our society’s pluralism ought to be respected and supported through sufficient choice of school ethos types, believing that the State, in line with the Constitution of Ireland, and in sympathy with international human rights conventions, ought to engage and support parental rights with respect to the preferred ethos of their child’s school, be those religious or philosophical, in so far as this is practicable.

Many of those arguing for change rarely present their full vision.

Instead, a disguised process of salami-slicing tinkering is proposed. Their final vision is often for a uniform education system, with a State determined ethos, administered by the State, with no role for civic society. A “HSE for Education”, as it were. However, the Catholic education sector believes that a response to pluralism that respects difference, and supports society and communities in giving life to diversity, is preferable to one that seeks to bury diversity under a bland uniformity.

To that end, the church and the Department of Education have engaged with a pilot process of reconfiguration. This process is near conclusion. To her credit, the Minster for Education Norma Foley is of similar mind to the patrons in her wish that the process be one of engagement and consensus-building with communities, rather than the imposition of a blunt legislative solution.

The results of that process will be reflected on, informing the next stage of negotiating increased school patronage diversity. It will reflect on the reasons expressed by majorities in most areas for supporting the existing Catholic patronage (a not-insignificant part of which came from parents of other minority faith traditions), as well as the sources of reluctance to change. It is interesting that the one change Mr Graham boasts of, the Admission to Schools Act 2018, by which Catholic schools alone are forbidden to prioritise the enrolment of children of our faith to, is now one of the significant blocks to reconfiguration. – Yours, etc,

ALAN HYNES,

Chief Executive Officer,

Catholic Education Partnership,

Columba Centre,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.