Educate Together wishes to issue a clarification in relation to admission policies for Educate Together primary and second-level schools.
Educate Together is fully bound by Ireland’s Equal Status Acts. As a non-religious organisation, it does not have an exemption under this legislation to discriminate on religious grounds. Religious schools have such an exemption and are allowed to discriminate against children on religious grounds. Educate Together, Ireland’s equality-based school provider, has never sought such an exemption, nor does it discriminate against Catholic or any other faith or philosophical background in enrolment to its schools.
Claims made on social media of late that Educate Together wants to prioritise families ‘of its own ethos’, or of ‘no religion’ are simply untrue. This is an important point that needs to be addressed: Catholic children, parents and staff are equally valued in, and have equal rights to access to, an Educate Together school. The identity of Catholic children is just as warmly supported in our ethos as those of any other faith or philosophical backgrounds. In fact, it is generally the case that in most Educate Together schools, a majority of children come from families that identify themselves as Catholic.
It is true that there has been frustration amongst parents, and some Educate Together Principals, regarding the enrolment policies of newly-established Educate Together second-level schools. This is because Educate Together second-level schools do not give priority to children who complete their primary education in Educate Together schools. Educate Together sympathises with and acknowledges these frustrations. Such frustrations are a legitimate expression of opinion, but they do not represent the policy of Educate Together.
Imposed Catchment Areas
This highlights a serious problem being experienced by families as a result of a lack of agreed national criteria for admissions policies. In recent years, all new schools opened as a result of increased demand in an area are required to have enrolment policies that give preference to children in a given geographical area. It is entirely understandable that the Department wants to ensure that a new school serves the community for which it is being built. However, this policy is not imposed on any of the long established religious-run schools in the area. It does not take into account the prevalent issue of religious discrimination that is permitted in the enrolment policies of faith-based schools. Neither does it take into account the fact that existing schools may already draw up their own catchment areas or other criteria for enrolment preference including faith backgrounds of children and faith based feeder schools. This has introduced a multi-layered environment in which existing religious-run schools can draw up their enrolment policies to suit themselves, whilst a new school is bound by a geographical definition of catchment defined by the Department. This is manifestly unfair and discriminatory.
In the second-level context, the result is that a child attending an Educate Together primary school who lives just outside the Government defined catchment area may be refused a place in the only Educate Together second-level school in the locality. They may also be excluded from or be at the bottom of a waiting list for a faith based second-level school, even if they live within the school’s local community. At the same time, a child coming from a religious faith background has access to any school of their choice because of their feeder school, faith background or because they happen to live in a catchment area.
We need to radically overhaul the school admissions system
Educate Together considers that this admissions policy conflict illustrates the profound difficulties with the current system. Educate Together has consistently been advocating a complete change to the admissions mechanism. In the Educate Together proposal, (We Need to Radically Overhaul the School Admissions System – detailed on our website), the state should take control of admissions to schools and all parents of children ready to attend school should state their school type preference.
A national network of Educate Together schools
Educate Together is determined to increase provision of its schools at both primary and second-level to meet the proven demand of families throughout Ireland. We believe that it is eminently possible to build a national network of equality-based Educate Together schools that will provide all families in the country with this choice. Our assessment suggests that a national network of approximately 300 Educate Together national schools, and an equivalent number of Educate Together second-level schools, is now needed.