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Educate Together, Ireland’s equality-based school provider, welcomes the Cabinet announcement that the ‘baptism-barrier’, which allows state-funded religious-run schools to discriminate on religious-grounds in the enrolment of children, is to be discontinued from September 2019.
Issues arising from the ‘baptism barrier’ are not in any way applicable to Educate Together schools, which are fully compliant with equality legislation and fully respect the rights (including those related to religious belief and worldview) of parents, staff and children.
However as a human-rights-based organisation, Educate Together has long contended that state-funded schools should not be allowed to discriminate against children on any grounds. Children of all religious, cultural and social backgrounds should be able to access state-funded education on an equal basis. Educate Together has put this position to the Department of Education, to multiple Irish Governments and to the United Nations over many years, and today Educate Together applauds the Government for its intention to deal with the issue in time for the 2019 intake.
More equality-based schools are needed
Removing the discrimination that is inherent in the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ will not solve the problem of parents of minority religion or no religion in Ireland having very little choice in the type of the school to which they can send their children. While, it will mean that non-baptised children will be more represented in the pupil numbers these children will be educated in schools that promote a particular denominational ethos throughout the entire school programme. Although the parents of such children have the right to ask for them to be removed from denominational teaching, this is largely impossible due to the integrated nature of the curriculum and the fact that few schools have the facilities or personnel to facilitate this.
It is Educate Together’s position that providing families with a school option where each child’s religious/worldview identity is equally respected and valued within the school day is of paramount importance. Educate Together’s equality-based model provides this. If the Government is serious about making the Irish education system more inclusive and equality-based, then it should focus its energy on providing both equal access to schools and equal respect within schools for all children. A national network of Educate Together schools, which welcome all children, is what is needed and what would truly serve the common good.
Other provisions in the proposed legislation
Educate Together welcomes the proposed ban on fees relating to admissions in non-fee paying schools and the proposed ban on waiting lists and the proposed three-week enrolment window in the year prior to admission. The five-year phasing-in period for this provision once the legislation is also fair, giving schools ample time to adjust to the new law.
Regarding the proposed new powers for the Minister for Education to require schools to open special classes for children with special needs, Educate Together believes that it is crucial that proper resources for individual schools be provided as well. Schools in Ireland need better access to specialist resources, and the Department of Education and other relevant agencies need to adequately support schools to ensure that he needs of every child are met.