Educate Together Responds to the Iona Institute’s Claims on Last Night’s Claire Byrne Live

Educate Together Responds to the Iona Institute’s Claims on Last Night’s Claire Byrne Live

It is disappointing that the Iona Institute, through their spokesperson Maria Steen, would so easily reinforce a prejudicial stereotype of the children who attend Educate Together schools as ‘middle-class’ as happened on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ last night. 

The Iona Institute’s spokesperson quoted selectively from a 2012 ESRI study, commissioned by Educate Together and available on our website. This valuable longitudinal study draws from data sets taken almost a decade ago, in 2007/08. The intervening years have seen a transformation in Irish society, culturally, economically and socially. Yet the Iona Institute’s spokesperson revisited a number of well-worn but utterly disproved stereotypes, detailed below.

The Iona Institute’s spokesperson stated that Educate Together schools were middle-class schools. Here are the facts: Since the turn of the century, Educate Together has been the lead supplier of new schools in Ireland. As a result, Educate Together's growing network of schools is very diverse. It includes a range of school types from small rural schools to large schools in new housing areas and accommodates a very wide social demographic. For instance, 26% of all Educate Together schools are either in or qualify for the government’s DEIS programme for schools in disadvantaged areas. Moreover, the majority of all new Educate Together schools also operate integrated facilities for children with autism – the highest percentage of any Irish provider. Educate Together operates some of the most diverse schools in the country.

The Iona Institute’s spokesperson stated that Educate Together schools do not serve members of the Travelling community. Here are the facts: Not only do Traveller children attend Educate Together schools, Educate Together schools have been involved with the Irish Traveller Movement's Yellow Flag inclusion and diversity award since its inception a number of years ago. A representative from Educate Together’s national office sits on the Steering Group of the Yellow Flag Award and bears witness to the great work that’s happening nationwide in Educate Together schools to promote diversity and inclusion.

The Iona Institute’s spokesperson stated that Catholic-run schools are the most diverse schools in Ireland. Here are the facts: Catholic run schools have a near-monopoly in Irish education. Ireland has an increasingly diverse population. By any logic, the patron with the largest number of schools would have to serve this population – this diversity is due to Catholic-run schools’ dominance in Irish education. Catholic-run schools can and do prioritise in admissions on the basis of a child’s religion when oversubscribed. No Educate Together school will ever do this. 

It should be noted here that these schools are not funded by the Church, but by the State. They are funded by the taxpayers – many of whom are not Catholic, may not want denominational education and are forced to fund a system with which they may disagree. It is also a fact that roughly half of children attending Educate Together schools identify as Catholic. Many of these children happily attend out of school hours confirmation and communion preparation classes and fully participate in Educate Together’s Ethical Education in school.

In the ongoing debate on school patronage and access to publicly-funded schools, Educate Together would like to remind the Iona Institute and its spokespeople that facts are important. It is a fact that all children are welcome in Educate Together schools. Families of all faiths and philosophical backgrounds choose Educate Together’s equality-based schools because they feel this model of education best prepares their children for today's diverse, globalised world.