Rite & Reason: Catholic schools are unfairly criticised over admissions

Only 5 per cent of such schools in Dublin restrict admission on religious grounds

Faith schools exist because there are parents who wish to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions. Catholic primary schools are embedded in parishes and communities throughout Ireland. All surveys demonstrate a very high level of parental satisfaction with the service provided by these schools. Some of the recent comment on them makes a caricature of their real contribution to Irish life.

Inspired by Christian faith and love, Catholic schools strive to be caring and inclusive communities. They have adapted to demographic change, with significant net migration into Ireland, and many of them have led the way in integrating migrants into local communities. They have been leaders in areas such as social inclusion, special needs and Traveller education.

The ethos of a school is given expression in multiple ways and it informs all aspects of the life of that school. This includes its admissions policy.

Last week, when rescinding rule 68 of the rules for national schools, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan confirmed that the ethos of faith schools is, and continues to be, the responsibility of their respective patrons.


The challenges facing Catholic schools and all educators are enormous. But the anthropological question is central: what vision of the human person underpins our educational endeavours?


Children today inhabit a world in which they are bombarded with messages dominated by a consumer and material vision. Our schools provide a space where pupils can explore the spiritual context of life. This points to understanding the human person in solidarity with others – especially the needy – and to be open to a relationship with God.

In his encyclical letter of 2015, Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that humanity has become blinded by a radical individualism. He calls for an ecological education. With this in mind, he states that "a great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on a long path of renewal".

Until this Saturday we are celebrating Catholic Schools Week 2016, with the theme “Challenged to Proclaim God’s Mercy”. To be merciful and forgiving is at the heart of Christian life. Our schools are challenged to be caring in all their dealings with our pupils and to work for the good of the community.

There has been much comment on school admissions in recent months. The vast majority of Catholic primary schools are not oversubscribed. This means that they accept all students whose parents apply for admission.

In a small minority of schools there are more applicants than there are places available. These schools publish an enrolment policy which must list the criteria used in determining school places. These criteria usually include having siblings in the school or belonging to a specific geographic area.

Faith community

Some schools also use the criterion of belonging to a particular faith community, such as the

Catholic Church

. In general, baptism is not a requirement for entry to a Catholic school, but rather it is a criterion used when there are more applicants than places available.

The number of such schools in the archdiocese of Dublin is very small, involving 17 bottlenecks when it comes to school admissions. This equals 5 per cent of schools in the greater Dublin area. The obvious solution would be to provide more school places in these areas.

The highest number of births in Ireland since independence was in the period 2008-2011, and this has caused significant pressure on school entry numbers in recent years. On the whole, schools have demonstrated a capacity to adapt to this increased demand.

The number of births has been falling year on year since 2011, which will decrease the future pressure on admissions to schools.

The number of children born in 2014 was 11 per cent less than in 2009.

Those who are suggesting changes to admissions policies recommend that geographic proximity should be the main criterion in determining school entry.

The evidence from England demonstrates that such an approach has many problems and challenges. When it comes to admissions to the small number of primary schools that are oversubscribed, the international experience demonstrates that there are no easy solutions.

Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry is chairman of the Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference