Méid an Téacs

Bruton to announce school admission reform options

Eanáir 16, 2017

Possible options to reform school admissions to limit or remove the role that a child’s religion plays in the process will be announced today by the Minister for Education.

Richard Bruton will outline four options and announce a consultation process on the issue.

Highlights of his speech, to be delivered at a seminar later today, were sent to education journalists.

Mr Bruton says he believes it is unfair that publicly-funded religious schools can give preference to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of other children who live close by.

The Minister says while 96% of primary schools here are Christian – the vast majority Catholic – over a third of couples getting married here are choosing civil non-religious ceremonies.

The options include allowing schools to favour children of their own religion only when those children live within the school’s catchment area, or when that school is their nearest one.

A third option is the introduction of quotas, allowing preference on religious grounds for a limited proportion of places.

The fourth is an outright ban on using religion as a factor in admissions.

Under this last option, the Minister says, religious schools could require parents or students to indicate support for the school’s religious ethos.

Mr Bruton will say there is a most important need to avoid possible impacts on the wishes of minority religions – such as Protestants – to run schools in accordance with their ethos and admit children from their communities.

Other possible consequences, he says, are breaches of the constitution, or the creation of so-called ‘postcode lotteries’ where schools in less advantaged areas could suffer.

The Minister says he will be commencing a process of consultation, and is interested in hearing the views of groups who are affected, as well as members of the public.

Mr Bruton will say the desire of religious parents to educate their children in their faith is welcome and should be respected.

But he says that non-religious parents or parents of minority religions should not be unfairly disadvantaged.

The Minister says while this unfairness must be addressed, he believes that there is “no easy fix” to what he calls a “highly complex and contested area”.

He will deliver his speech later at a seminar organised by Equate, an organisation that is campaigning for equal access to publicly-funded schools for all children.

Atheist Ireland said three of the options “would just fine-tune the religious discrimination in access, and indeed would result in some Catholic families being discriminated against.”

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne has said the Minister was “floating ideas” and not “taking any real action”.

He added that the Oireachtas Education Committee is “in the middle of carrying out a consultation on this issue and has held hearings before Christmas and will have further hearings shortly.  Then it is envisaged that we will legislate.”