Baptism not the only school barrier
Sir, – Carl O’Brien’s analysis of the proposals to eliminate the baptism barrier to school admission says that Catholic schools have been operating catchment areas on an informal basis for year without any major problems (“Catchment area plan could end up bogged down in bureaucratic quagmire”, March 21st”).
I am not so certain as to the lack of problems. However, I am a little impatient with the blinkered focus on religion as a major issue for school admission. Of course parents who do not choose a denominational education for their children have a right to feel aggrieved at the lack of choice and, in some cases, the exclusion of their children from state schools.
However, there are many parents, whole groups of parents in fact, who, by virtue of their economic circumstances, family situation and ethnicity find themselves with restricted choice or none in terms of schools admission.
Catchment area in an urban context has always meant social and economic polarisation and this is increasingly the case. Whether there is a shortage of school places or not, those with little choice or none are not just parents whose children are not baptised but those with less “social capital”; those whose accommodation is temporary or in the tenuous private rental sector, lone parents who have no one to help with school collection and drop off, parents for whom English is a second language or who have literacy difficulties, parents who’ve recently fostered or adopted a child and those in emergency accommodation , including homeless families but the largest group of whom would be Traveller families in halting sites awaiting action from reluctant county councils.
An interesting and perhaps chastening analysis would be of the pupil intake of those schools, mainly Deis schools, near or even within catchment areas where there is a shortage of school places. I suspect these schools may have places to offer but their increasing marginalisation makes them unattractive for many middle-class parents. This is not just an equality issue, but also a social justice issue, that the Catholic Church and the Department of Education and Skills should face up to. – Yours, etc,