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Church of Ireland Parents Seriously Concerned over Proposed School Admissions Changes

Warning that proposed changes would undermine the provision of education by and to minority faiths

A survey of 500 parents whose children attend national schools under Church of Ireland patronage has revealed major concerns about proposed school admissions changes being proposed by the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD.

The survey, which was conducted by the General Synod Board of Education, sought the views of parents of children who attend primary schools under Church of Ireland patronage. 

The main survey results demonstrated that the vast majority of Church of Ireland parents (87%) consider that it is important for them to have access to national schools to provide education to their children within a Church of Ireland/Protestant ethos. 77% of parents expressed a fear that the abolition of a right of their local Church of Ireland school to afford priority on admissions to Church of Ireland/Protestant pupils when oversubscribed, would undermine parental choice and diversity within their local area.

The survey provided parents with an opportunity to leave their own comments and hundreds of parents took the opportunity to express their dismay at the possibility that their families could be denied access to a local school established to educate their faith community.

At least 90% of the respondents’ comments were strongly in favour of maintaining the priority for children of Protestant faith in oversubscribed Church of Ireland national schools. Many expressed fear that a change in the admissions rules would have a detrimental and disproportionate effect on their schools and on minority faith communities. A selection of parental comments is included below.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Dr Ken Fennelly, Secretary to the General Synod Board of Education said that the concerns expressed by parents were real and very serious. He said that the proposals advanced by Minister Bruton were causing real concern in minority faith communities and needed to be revised.

Dr Fennelly said: “It is ironic that the sector of the community which feels the greatest threat and concern from Minister Bruton’s new proposals on religion and admissions is a sector which has offered choice, diversity and inclusivity in Irish education for many decades. The Minister has repeatedly said that he has no wish to undermine minority religious schools but our schools are asking how he can avoid this in the light of the proposals he has put forward. This survey (along with the large number of submissions made by schools as part of the consultation process), is articulating real and serious concerns among school communities around the country. The Minister needs to allay these fears in a substantive way.”

Dr Fennelly added that he hoped that the Minister would reflect on the output of the survey and the concerns which parents have expressed.

 

Parent Questionnaire

Total 501 replies completed. A further 45 replies were not completed correctly or were not legible. Three schools gave more than 20 replies so the first 20 alone were included to avoid distorting the figures.

Questions:

(a) Is it important for you to have access to schools that provide education for your child within a Church of Ireland/Protestant ethos?

Yes 87%
No 11%
Don’t know 2%

(b) In your opinion, do you think that the possible abolition of the right of your school to give priority to COI/Protestant pupils will undermine parental choice in your locality?


Yes 77%
No 15%
Don’t know 8%

Replies were received from parents from 95 schools. 39 schools gave three or fewer replies.

Sample comments of the 345 given by parents in response to the survey:

“I, my children, my parents and their parents before them have all been educated in similar schools. They are highly regarded and uphold Christian values of honesty, fairness, justice, concern and a responsible attitude towards others, all characteristics that we need more of, rather than less, in this world. My wife and I chose to send our children eight miles from our home to the nearest Church of Ireland school so they could be educated within their own ethos. Our local school is a three minutes drive away. We have no regrets as they have and are receiving such a wonderful start in life. If the rules are changed, this will have a profound effect on all schools into the future. The impact on our own minority faith school will most probably lead to its demise. It exists to serve the minority Protestant community as well as children of other faiths and none. If Protestant children begin to be excluded a situation will inevitably arise where the school student body will no longer reflect the school denominational character. This will also impact the local minority Protestant community into the future.”

“As a family of church of Ireland faith within a rural area our freedom of choice to educate our children in a school of church of Ireland ethos would be severely compromised. The Church of Ireland is a minority religion within Ireland and we as Parents should have the freedom to be able to choose where to educate of children with in the existing Church of Ireland Schools left in Rural areas.”

“As a high percentage of schools are still church connected/based (the vast majority still being under the patronage of the Catholic church), I think it is important to have the choice to send your child to a Protestant/COI ethos school. For this option to be available to families with this ethos, priority needs to be given to them (not exclusivity but priority). The Educate Together option (and other independent schools) provide for families of other faiths (or no faith).”

“As a member of the Christian Church and Church of Ireland it is extremely important to have a school of same ethos available for education. We made an informed decision on behalf of our children with baptism and expect them to receive direction in school which compliments and supports our personal religious belief. This assists our children in deciding right from wrong and making ethical decisions. It creates a sense of belonging. We have the same right to choose a Church of Ireland School for education just as Muslims now have their own schools and people of no religious belief are choosing non denominational schools. We wish to be treated as equal in the eyes of the state with access to Church of Ireland Schools with priority entry to same. Failure to do so results in loss of identity and inconsistency for our children.”

“As a parent, I want my children to be educated in the ethos they are brought up in (Church of Ireland) and this is my parental right under section 7(3) of the Equal Status Act. As parents, we do not have the option of sending our children to a Church of Ireland/Protestant secondary school in our area, our only option is for them to go to a community school as we cannot afford the fees for the nearest Protestant secondary school. If the admission policy had to be changed in all primary school we as parents would not have the ability to have our children educated in our ethos as we live too far from our parish school and pass several other schools on our way to it. We have chosen to have our children educated in our parish school, it is very much part of our faith community in our parish and our children are very involved in our parish, with not only going to church, but attending Sunday School, Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade and Youth Services. We chose to join this parish when we got married and our children have been part of this faith community since they were born, they have developed friendships which stretch across all the activities they are involved in. Every parent has the right to choose how their child is educated, but changing the admission policy to be more inclusive will in fact deny some parents those rights.”

“It is very important to keep the admissions policies as they currently stand, because if they change, the Church of Ireland ethos will be lost in these small schools. The Church of Ireland schools are a key focus point for Protestant families and children in Ireland for which they serve, and they help bring and keep this minority community vibrant. These small schools are unique in many ways. They bring a very hands–on, community centred approach to both our children’s education and to many COI families who interact with the school. Many COI lifelong friendships and relationships (including marriages) are formed from the bonds that were initially developed around the community of our COI ethos schools. If COI families where to lose access to these schools, this would have a noted negative effect on dispersing and diluting our minority COI community. Also, there are little or no substitutes in modern Irish life that would replace this important pillar in keeping our COI community healthy and sustainable. Having a vibrant COI community also adds to the interest of our culturally diverse Irish population.”

“Parents should have the right to choose where their children are educated. They know their child best and deserve to be allowed select a school that caters best for the values they feel are most important. There are a number of schools locally for everyone to choose from, and it is important to offer everyone this choice. Just as some consider the Irish language to be important, we as Protestants consider our religious beliefs an important part of our heritage, and want to be able to select a school that supports this. A child needs to be provided the opportunity to develop their identity in a safe environment. They will be in a minority within a different school – running the risk of isolation and bullying for being different. Within modern society today, as a working parent, our children’s wellbeing and happiness is always a cause for concern. A school should feel safe and inviting, it should not be about creating anxieties. Removing this choice could actually alienate us as Protestants, and result in losing an important part of our culture and heritage.”

“As a minority religion it is very important that Church of Ireland parents have the choice to send their children to a primary school under COI patronage If the COI is to have any chance of surviving and prospering to the end of this century and beyond. This is a vital part of our identity and heritage. In the recent past we have seen the closure of the Adelaide Hospital for COI nurse training. The COI teacher training college in Rathmines is the process of closing down. Decisions like these chip away at our identity. Numbers of people identifying themselves as COI has fallen from 200 000 to 100 000 during the last 100 years (approx figures). If we loose our COI schools this decline will become more rapid which will result in the probable closure of many churches and the demise of these parishes. This is a very important issue to us.”

“The importance of maintaining Protestant schools is key to maintaining viable communities that can thrive and contribute to the future development of the country.”

“By solving one problem the Minister is creating another – by potentially denying Protestant families a faith based education of choice. This will more acutely impact on Minority religions and those that wish to adhere by a particular ethos.”

“Having attended a Church of Ireland primary school myself and now having my children being educated through the same system I would be very upset if this option was unavailable. I have chosen to send my children to this school. The link between school and church within our Church of Ireland community is very important to my family. The dilution of our ethos would have a negative effect of the Church also.”

“Having chosen to baptise our children in our faith we rear them in our faith and expect that to be supported through their access to education. Respect and tolerance for other faiths and none is important and so being open to others is welcome but the core tenets of our faith must remain at the heart. Church home and school together support the development of faith. Concerned that the discourse is seen as a polarised debate. State must provide choice for parents with no faith but not through undermining faith of those who have.”

“I can’t speak for other schools but I firmly believe what effort our COI community and parishes put into supporting our school would be undermined if COI pupils were not given priority. It is the fact that we are COI that gives us such a close connection to our school. It is a symbiotic relationship and both the COI community and the school benefit from COI pupils having priority. I think we are very lucky to have access to a school which has the same ethos as us.”

“I feel that the issue of school patronage has been hijacked to disguise a lack of school places in a number of areas, particularly densely populated urban areas. Why should parishes of any denomination take on the running of these schools, and in many cases provide the land for the schools, without at least being able to give priority to parishioners when it comes to admitting their children? Certainly in our school there are very many children who are not from the parish and this is a good thing, but the parish should reserve the right to give priority to parish children. Church of Ireland parents who wish to do so should have the choice to have their children educated within a Church of Ireland ethos. The department should stop wasting time on this red herring and focus on the provision of school places where they are needed.”

“I feel very strongly about this. There are a lot of Catholic families who want co–education schooling which most of the time they can’t get in their own faith, if there is no preference given to COI children it will deny them a place in a school of their own faith and ethos.”

“In no way do we support the exclusion of non–COI children. However, as a minority religion we feel that it is important to support and nurture the COI community and ethos. This is greatly helped by having a central place for our children to go to school given that the COI is thinly spread over a large geographical area.”

“In this minority CofI community, maintaining the ethos of the school by giving priority to community members is essential to maintaining the existence of the community. In addition to the parish church, the school is a “hub” for the community. Continuity is maintained over generations of parents & children who have attended the school along with a sense of ownership and belonging. If the school is no longer part of the parish and not run by a parish Board of Management, then an important part of the community will be lost as that sense of identity will disappear and the community spirit along with its history & traditions will dissipate.”

“Our family is Roman Catholic and we have been very happy with our daughter attending a church of Ireland School. It was very educational for her to attend various celebrations in the church and see how it is different to our Mass and she has learned to respect other religious beliefs. I think it would undermine parental choice to abolish the priority to COI/Protestant Pupils. It is great to have choice as I have stated already. My daughter is currently in sixth class and has never once been treated any different to the COI children or the other children who also have different beliefs. We think that St Johns Parochial School at Ashe Street is Tralee’s best kept secret, there should be no change only promote it more. It is a wonderful school where there is a great ethos for social inclusion, good manners and respect for all.”

“It seems to me that the Dept of Education are looking to stream line admissions because of the demand for school places in Dublin, this is not a “one size fits all” solution. Choice is abundant in Dublin where there is a much better public transport system and higher population. Streamlining admissions in the rest of the country may erode parental choice and be damaging to the smaller communities.”

“Parents chose schools for a variety of reasons – size, reputation, facilities, location etc. However, if parents have a specific belief ethos, this will be the only determining factor in their choice of school as it is only natural that they would like their children to follow and be educated within this same belief structure. The size of Glebe National School, together with its excellent reputation, makes it a popular choice within the community. However, the size of the school also limits places. Should the school be forced to accept a “quota” of non–COI students, it will result in parishioners being forced to either send their children to RC schools or to Educate Together – neither of which will provide the religious grounding of choice. I believe that COI has a duty of care to its young members to provide them with a first class education within the belief structure.”

Contact Details

Dr Ken Fennelly

Secretary, Board of Education (Republic of Ireland)
Church of Ireland House
Church Avenue
Rathmines
Dublin 6
D06 CF67
+353 (0)1 4125 609

ken.fennelly@rcbdub.org

Dr Peter Hamill

Secretary, Board of Education (Northern Ireland)
Church of Ireland House
61–67 Donegall Street
Belfast
BTI 2QH
+44 (0)28 9082 8860

edunorth@ireland.anglican.org