#GE16 and Primary Education: Religion in Schools

As we come up to the General Election, I’m looking at the various parties and their stances on aspects of primary education. While I am personally very glad that religion in schools is top of the list in terms of public interest, I know that most primary teachers don’t believe it is the biggest issue facing us. Over the coming weeks, I’ll tackle some of those but for now, here are the stances on religion in school from the various political parties in terms of the three main issues: support of pluralism, access to a school and equality within a school.

Fine Gael

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: Yes
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: No mention

The Equal Status Act permits schools in which the objective is to provide education that promotes certain religious values, to admit a student of a particular religion in preference to others. Fine Gael supports real parental choice within a more diverse system of school patronage.

Fianna Fáil

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: Yes (in catchment area)
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: No mention

No parent should have to baptise their child simply to get him/her into a school and that all children (regardless of religious denomination or outlook) should have access to a school in their local community. We believe that it would not be against the constitutional (or the rights of minority faith schools) to allow schools to give preference to children of their denominational ethos, who are from a catchment area. However we not believe that schools should be able to give admissions to children of their own denominational background from outside their catchment area, in preference to children of a different denomination from inside their catchment area. Catchment Areas could be sized according to the availability of schools of different ethos. It is unlikely that this would be unconstitutional. This would mean that catchment areas could be sized according to the popularity of the schools ethos e.g. Presbyterian schools or Jewish schools would have an extremely wide catchment for admissions as there are so few of these schools in the country. This would protect them as Minority denominational schools.

Labour

I could not find their policy document so just going on information found.

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: Yes
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: No mention

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin did not have a policy document on their website about education.

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Can’t find information on this
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: No
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day:Can’t find information on this

AAA/PBP

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: No mention
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: No
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: No mention

Access to education will not be controlled by religious beliefs. Discriminatory admissions practices that see children denied access to schools based on religion will be outlawed;

Renua

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: Yes
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: Hard to tell from below but certainly leaning towards a No

The lack of school places in certain parts of the country where the population is growing rapidly is a cause for huge concern. RENUA Ireland believes that every child is entitled to access a place in their local area. We will undertake an in-depth analysis of the census and of demographic projections across the country to ensure that we plan our school building programme and school expansion schemes based on demand and need. RENUA Ireland also recognises that there is over-provision of certain faith-based schools across the country and that there is an urgent need for more diversity in terms of school ethos. RENUA Ireland supports the rights of families and communities to have access to schools with a religious ethos as well as schools without such an ethos. In government, RENUA Ireland will ensure that the abandoned school divestment process is reignited. This process must respect the needs and concerns of parents, communities, the religious institutions who currently have patronage of 94% of our schools and most importantly the children themselves.

Social Democrats

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: No
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: Almost but not quite

Repeal of Section 7 (3) (c) of the Equal Status Act so that children cannot be refused admission to a local school on the basis of their religious beliefs. That the patronage of all new schools in developing areas should be representative of local parental preference. Where a demand for a new inclusive school is proven in an established area, the State should ensure that either a suitable denominational school building would be provided under an agreed divestment programme, a suitable public building would be made available, or funding would be provided for a new school building. Once the viability of a potential new school is established, the State should accommodate this demand within three years. The Minister for Education and Skills should be required to report annually to the Dáil on the progress of the State in ensuring an inclusive State-funded school system which reflects the diversity of Irish society and which upholds the right of all citizens to an education, appropriate to their beliefs.

Green Party

  • Supports Pluralism and Patronage: Yes
  • Supports right of school to discriminate on access based on religion: No
  • Supports equal participation throughout school day: Yes but somehow aims to do so within current ethos of the school

We will end the practice where schools can discriminate against pupils in the admissions process on the basis of religion, or of special educational needs.We will continue the work of the Advisory body on Patronage and Pluralism that represents patron bodies and parents. We will expand its remit to ensure that all schools are welcoming and inclusive, whilst still respecting their particular ethos. In particular, we will work to prevent any pupil or group of pupils being separated from their peers during the school day based on their religious or cultural background. During core school hours there will be non-denominational instruction on morals, ethics and religions. This approach will provide all pupils in Irish schools with an education about a wide range of thought systems and cultures.

Overall, it appears that the Green Party come the closest to tackling the issues surrounding equality of access and participation in terms of religion in primary schools. I will update this article if I hear back from the parties whose information on this topic is not online.

 

Comment (1)

  1. Michelle Rogers February 16, 2016 at 8:18 pm Reply

    Excellent, thanks for your work on this!

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