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Board of Education (R.O.I.)

Statement regarding school admissions proposals from the patrons of Church of Ireland primary schools

Inclusivity and respect for diversity are not new concepts to Church of Ireland schools.

Church of Ireland primary schools are embedded among communities across the country and have a long–standing tradition of being inclusive, of welcoming pupils from widely differing faith traditions and many from backgrounds of no faith at all. Church of Ireland schools are child–centred, co–educational and are faith based, Christian in ethos.

The Christian faith acknowledges the value and uniqueness of every human being and demands that each individual is treated with respect, kindness and love. A Christian ethos demands of its school that every child should be enabled to flourish and that every child understands the importance of striving to reach their potential with integrity and humility.

Schools under Church of Ireland patronage are democratically run with parents, teachers and the church community in partnership providing an inclusive, effective and comprehensive curriculum with an attractive ethos that responds to the academic, cultural, personal and spiritual needs of pupils.

While the Church of Ireland ethos permeates all aspects of the education of the pupils, the schools under Church of Ireland patronage work to take those moral and personal values which are strongest in Christian faith and promote those values amongst the entire student body regardless of their faith background. Many non–religious parents choose schools under Church of Ireland patronage as they see the ethos of Church of Ireland schools as an attractive moral and spiritual framework within which they wish their children to be educated.

It is difficult to reconcile what we know and experience about the schools under Church of Ireland patronage with much of the public debate around school admissions and primary education in general. In recent years, faith schools have been poorly served, at times, by news media. Too often, there is a failure to ensure that hyperbole and opinion are counter balanced with evidence based facts.

The Minister’s Proposals

We are given to understand that the Minister has received over one hundred submissions from schools under Church of Ireland patronage from across the country. Each school has expressed concern and alarm at the Ministers proposals. This is a very strong voice from the members of our community which must be heard and recognised.

The Minister, in his speech at the launch of his consultation process, stated that “given the make–up of the population, if a Protestant or an Islamic primary school for example was prohibited from using religion as an admissions criterion, it is hard to see how it could maintain an ethos among its school community and remain a school of that religion in any real sense.” And yet, that is what the Minister’s proposals envisage.

Seeking to radically undermine the legal protections which support the provision of faith based education by religious minorities in Ireland will do little for equality or fairness in Irish education. There are other administrative approaches that the Minister can take to address the challenges proposed in the very limited areas where oversubscription to schools and lack of capacity are creating difficulties. Not one school place will be added to the education system if any of these proposals are implemented. 

Changing the admissions rules as proposed will do nothing to increase resources in specific areas. Instead the change will merely create a new cohort of children who are excluded from education within their own faith.

Church of Ireland schools are an important component of Church of Ireland communities and other Christian minority communities throughout the country. They provide an invaluable focal point for a faith community which is usually widely dispersed geographically. Church of Ireland schools enjoy a strong link with their community and there exists a strong interdependence socially, spiritually and very often practically. Many Church of Ireland schools owe their very existence and their subsequent development over generations to the generous and unwavering support of their parish and the wider Church of Ireland community. To prevent a Church of Ireland school from prioritising children from that community will lead to a splintering and a diminishing of that link causing hurt, confusion and disillusionment. The rights of a minority denomination should not be trampled on in a race towards a populist understanding of pluralism.

As the patrons of school which cater for a minority Christian denomination in Irish society, we respect the rights of other minority groups to express their opinions and we believe that any view that seeks to bring a human rights perspective must also be pluralistic in outlook. There are practical difficulties in the giving effect to the rights of parents who wish to exercise their Constitutional right to opt their children out of religious education. As patrons, we know that schools work hard not to allow any child to feel excluded on the basis their (or their parents) beliefs. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Department of Education and Skills in its work to facilitate parental choice in the Irish education system within available resources.

As we move through the triduum of Holy Week, we wish all involved in our schools a very happy and blessed Easter.

Date: Maundy Thursday, 13th April 2017

On behalf of:

The Most Rev Dr RL Clarke, Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh.
The Most Rev Dr MJ StA Jackson, Primate of Ireland, Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough
The Most Rev P Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare
The Rt Rev J McDowell, Bishop of Clogher
The Rt Rev KR Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
The Rt Rev F Glenfield, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh
The Rt Rev PW Rooke, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry
The Rt Rev MAJ Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory
The Rt Rev Dr WP Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
The Rt Rev Dr K Kearon, Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe