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Educate Together Blog

Educate Together Blog

The Time For Talking Is Over

Paul Rowe, CEO, Educate Together

It’s about time that we stopped the window dressing and posturing and talked seriously about the profound change that is needed in our education system.

The bottom line is this: children in Ireland are not treated equally in our education system. 

In nine out of ten communities a family has no choice but to send their child to a school that is owned and controlled by the Catholic church, a school that must by law uphold that church’s world outlook in all aspects of the school programme. It is these same Catholic schools that many Catholic churchmen believe should become more exclusive 'as they fully realise their ethos and identity'. What of the children who have to enrol there because there is literally no other choice in their local area? What of the non-Catholic children who have already embarked on their education in these classrooms?

Inequality is ingrained in the Irish education system because the privileges of religious bodies are firmly protected by the Constitution and laws of Ireland. However, even if we succeeded in changing these statutes and laws, the fact remains that 98% of all primary school buildings are privately owned by religious bodies – dioceses and Trusts. Although they accommodate national schools supported by the taxpayer, they cannot be re-assigned by the State without the consent of these denominational bodies. This “triple-lock” of Statute, Constitution and private ownership prohibits the wide-ranging adjustments required for true educational equality and means that the only effective remedy is for the rapid expansion of alternative, equality-based provision throughout the country.

Recent censuses and numerous social indices show that an increasing number of people living in Ireland do not identify themselves in traditional religious terms.

The Government, the main political parties and the Department of Education and Skills have neither the proper funding programme nor any real plan to address this situation. They have instead resorted to half-measures and double-speak to cover up an increasingly serious violation of the human, religious and intellectual rights of many families. In an attempt to redress some of the main injustices ingrained in the education system, the 2012 Forum on Patronage and Pluralism stated that there was ‘an urgency for action on divesting’ that ‘where very significant demand for a new school type has already been evidenced, the Department, in consultation with established patrons, should prioritise this so that a building can be made available from existing stock’ (p.106). 

This recommendation has never been given the resources and funding necessary to make it happen. Most of the 28 areas in which parental preference surveys recommended change have seen only limited progress. Educate Together is the approved provider of choice in 25 of these areas. 19 areas continue to wait for their Educate Together schools. Change is only permitted if the Catholic church provides a building or if, by chance, a State-owned building happens to be suitable and available for long-term use as a school. In two cases in 2015, Educate Together was pressurised to accept remote, abandoned, deserted and non-viable buildings for new schools as the only option for parents and children. In an almost medieval manner, the government was stating that those seeking an alternative to a faith-based school must be prepared to travel far outside the town boundaries whilst those of the majority could walk safely and quickly to school.  We cannot allow the rights of children and families that want an alternative to denominational education to become a secondary and ‘no cost’ option for the State.

Compounding these already almost insurmountable obstacles, ridiculous restrictions to grant aid for development work have been introduced. Despite divestment being a Government objective, the Government insists that it be cost-neutral. A regulation that limits grants to only the first five ‘divestment’ projects means that Educate Together will receive no further funding at all towards work in the other 20 areas. This regulation grossly impedes the progress of this programme and throws into serious doubt the Government’s commitment to it. Enough is enough. The time is now for a properly funded programme to meet the demonstrated demand for new Educate Together schools. In Dublin 6, in the past six months more than 1,000 children have signed up for a school that was committed to in 2013 under the school patronage surveys. Parents in Wicklow, Mayo, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, Meath, Kerry, Kildare, Galway, Clare, and Dublin continue to lobby and are still waiting for their ‘divestment’ schools. Educate Together at second-level is also strongly in demand with 2,000 expressions of interest for a school in South Kildare and activists lobbying in a number of other counties

The time for talking is over. We need properly funded action and we need it now. We call on all political candidates seeking votes in the upcoming election to make their positions clear on this issue. 

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