‘Baptism barrier’ and school places

 

A chara, – Your editorial of January 5th says that removing the so-called baptism barrier would be a “step in the right direction” because the current system is “unfair” to “non-religious families”. What is fair and what is not, it should be noted, is often a matter of perspective.

So, for example, the proposed changes are “fair” if the true objective here is to undermine denominational education in this country, particularly that in Catholic schools, rather than address the issue of a lack of places in a few areas. It is “fair” if one believes the non-religious are now entitled to a special status and should not have to establish and maintain schools congenial to their system of beliefs, as faith communities have done for generations, and denominational schools must change their policies to suit them.

Others might find it manifestly unfair that, for example, a Catholic family might be denied a place in a Catholic school for their child in order that it might be given to a family who cares not a whit for the ethos of the school but finds its location convenient to them. Such others would, I suspect, regard the proposed changes as being very much a step in the wrong direction. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Your editorial cuts through much of the recent rhetoric surrounding the Minister for Education’s plans to address discrimination in Irish national schools. The proposal are indeed a step and an important step, but many more steps are required to achieve equality.

The editorial calls the Minister’s plans “proportionate” with the potential to make schools admissions fairer. Yet in recent days, we have seen that there are objections in some quarters to what is hardly a radical move. These proposed changes are not unfair. Unfair is being told that because of religious status, your child is in “category seven” for a school they can see from their front garden.

The editorial claims that “many schools are flexible and inclusive” and while this wouldn’t necessarily be the experience of our members, perhaps this statement cuts to the heart of the matter. Why should the quality of a public-funded service depend on how flexible or inclusive it chooses to be?

Real equality in our national schools will require not just an equal chance to access the school but also equal respect once enrolled, and it is in this area that “more radical reform” to reflect the reality of “modern society” is required. Equal access alone will represent a curate’s egg if the current practices of “opting out” of faith formation persist. Compelling a child to engage in faith formation against the family’s conscience or segregating that child from their peers for part of the school day is not fair. Trusting that individual schools will be flexible and inclusive is not sufficient.

The Minister should now turn his mind to regulating these opting-out arrangements. Education Equality maintain that moving faith formation outside of core school hours represents a workable solution, and while that proposal is not radical in itself, it has the potential to ensure respect for all the families in our modern society. – Yours, etc,

SARAH LENNON

Chairwoman,

Education Equality,

Shankill, Dublin 18.