Educate Together welcomes today’s news that the Government intends to remove the ‘baptism barrier’ and address the ongoing and very real discrimination against young children in accessing religious-run schools all over Ireland.
It should be noted, however, that 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 religious rights of parents, staff and children.
Schools should never be allowed to discriminate against children
Educate Together has long contended that state-funded schools should never be allowed to discriminate against children on the basis of religion. In welcoming today’s announcement, Educate Together CEO Paul Rowe stated:
“We are delighted to see that Minister Bruton is now willing to remove the baptism barrier from Irish schools. Educate Together maintains that this is an unacceptable situation in a modern democratic republic. Children of all religious, cultural and social backgrounds should be able to access all state-funded education on an equal basis and we are delighted that the Government has come around to accepting this position.”
In a system wherein over 96% of the schools are religious-run, 'Catholic first’ enrolment policies force many parents to compromise their own values in order for their children to access the local school. Educate Together has put this position to the Department of Education, to multiple Irish Governments and to the United Nations over many years.
More equality-based schools are needed
There is no doubt that the baptism barrier is an affront to the rights of families around the country and lessening its impact will provide places for children who would otherwise be prohibited from attending their local school. It is Educate Together’s position that simply repealing the ‘baptism barrier’ will not, however, solve the problem of parents of minority religion or no religion having very little choice in the ethos of the school in which their children will spend their formative years.
Equally important is providing families with a school option that does not ‘other’ non-religious or minority religious children within the school day. Educate Together’s equality-based model provides this, and there is an urgent need for the Government to respond to the ever growing demand for this model of education.
If the Government really is serious about making the Irish education system more inclusive, 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 and cherish all children, is what is needed and what would truly serve the common good.
Educate Together has welcomed the commitments in the Programme for Government to increase non-denominational and multi-denominational schools to 400 by 2030. Genuine choice of school type that is compatible with the constitutional and human rights of all families in Ireland can only be achieved if equality-based schools such as those provided under the Educate Together model are available all over Ireland.