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Educate Together Blog

Educate Together Blog

'Solving the school patronage problem'

Amy Mulvihill, New Schools Programme Manager of Educate Together, responds to the Irish Times Correspondent Joe Humphries' suggestions on 'How the Catholic Church could solve the school patronage problem'

Sir, –  Contrary to Joe Humphreys' assertions, Educate Together remains hopeful that the commitment made by the government in 2012 - to create more diversity in the primary school system - will be honoured. Encouraging noises have come from some of those in the Catholic Church hierarchy and, despite claims to the contrary, the divestment process has the support of many communities throughout Ireland.

While we disagree that the divestment process has ‘come and gone’, we do agree that the level of progress (only a handful of schools have opened up in divestment areas) barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done. What is undeniable is that today, families do not have choice in the kind of education to which their children have access, with over over 96% of schools under religious patronage.

Mr Humphreys suggests two remedies to the situation - ‘opt-in’ faith formation classes and a discontinuation of ‘Catholic first’ admissions policies. Catholic first admissions policies are admittedly a major concern, barring as they do many children who need local school places. Even if this discrimination was removed, it would not address the fundamental problem with the Irish education system, where schools are obliged to ensure that the prescribed ethos permeates the entire school day. Rule 68 of the 1965 ‘Rules for National Schools’ states that ‘of all parts of a school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important’ and that ‘a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school’. Although the current Minister believes this rule is ‘archaic’, it remains in situ. 

Where children are given the choice to ‘opt-in’ to faith formation classes, how exactly should they ‘opt-out’ of the religious spirit that informs the whole work of the school? The end result of Mr Humphreys’ proposed solution would see non-baptised children finally granted equality of access to their local Catholic school, yet they would remain subject to the ‘religious spirit’ that permeates the school despite their parents wishes and rights. Amending legislation to allow non-baptised children equal access to religious-run schools would not address the issue of children being inculcated with a religious belief that is not of their parents’ choosing.

Parents should not have to be beholden to any religious institution for the vindication of their right to a state-funded education for their children. It is for this reason that Educate Together provides a model that accepts and treats all children equally and why Educate Together will continue to lobby for a true alternative to the virtual monopoly held by religious patrons in Irish education. The establishment of a national network of Educate Together schools that guarantee equality of access and esteem to all children is the solution. 

 

2013 Patronage Survey Report: Map

38 towns were surveyed and 20 of the 23 recommended for alternate patron provision expressed a preference for Educate Together schools. Five further areas surveyed in December last year all chose Educate Together. 

2013 Patronage Survey Report: Table

38 towns were surveyed and 20 of the 23 recommended for alternate patron provision expressed a preference for Educate Together schools. Five further areas surveyed in December last year all chose Educate Together. 

Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816