'We are trying to have a fair set of rules for every child', Minister says amid baptism barrier criticism
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton has responded to claims that the removal of the ‘baptism barrier’ will not combat the growing number over-subscribed schools in Ireland.
Minister Bruton’s proposals would see 2,800 Catholic schools across the country banned from discriminating on the grounds of religion when it comes to admitting children to schools.
However, both the Catholic Schools Partnership and the Catholic Primary Schools Association have claimed that will do nothing to deal with creating more places in over-subscribed schools, and that there was a greater problem with the amount of overall places being made available.
Ferdia Kelly, CEO of the Catholic Schools Partnership, warned yesterday that Mr Bruton's proposal "will not create one additional place in oversubscribed schools".
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Minister Bruton responded by saying that this proposal was not an issue of the amount of places, and more about giving children of all denominations "a fair chance".
“There are enough places for children. Every year we build 15,000 extra places,” Minister Bruton told Newstalk Breakfast.
“There are over-subscribed schools all over the country, but we can’t provide a situation where every parent can get their preferred school.
“So if we have a situation where a school is over-subscribed it will always be religion that determines access to that school.
“What we’re trying to do is have a fair set of rules that gives every child who wants to pursue a certain approach a fair chance of getting that.”
The minister stressed that his new bill is about managing the needs of three different groups: Catholic children, children of minority religions and children of no denomination.
Some 90pc of primary schools in the country are currently under the ethos of the Catholic Church, whereas only 78pc of the population consider themselves to be Catholic.
- Read more: 'Baptism barrier' to end as Bruton plans to stop Catholic schools admitting on basis of religion
Almost 10pc of the country now identify themselves as of no religion according the latest Census data, but there are only 81 non-denominational primary schools nationwide.
“When fewer than one in 20 schools are non-denominational and it’d be unfair that they be passed over,” Minister Bruton said.
“Most schools in the country, it is their practice not to use religion as a test to admit children but in the minority of situations where it is used, I’ve had to derive a balance to balance the interest of the Catholic children, children of minority religions and non-denominational children.”
The Minster for Education and Skills was also forced to defend a rule in his proposal that will allow schools of minority religions to factor ethos into their religion policies.
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Despite being accused of ‘singling out’ Catholic schools, Minister Bruton has insisted it is necessary to protect the status of schools of minority religions and the parents who wish for their children to attend them.
“In the case of minority religions, if you allow this rule of not having any situation where they could protect their right of access, they’d find they’d be overrun because there’s only 6pc of those schools in the country,” Minister Bruton said.
“In the case of Catholics, they can get access and they won’t have the ethos of the school undermined, but the situation is if you apply the same rule to Church of Ireland schools, for example, you’d no longer have a Church of Ireland school and many Church of Ireland children wouldn’t be able to get access. That’s why the Catholic situation is different. “
“What we’re trying to do is have a fair set of rules that gives every child who wants to pursue a certain approach a fair chance of getting that… If it’s a minority religion, we have to have a different rule so that those schools don’t get overrun.”