Baptism barrier to be lifted in “historic” reform of primary schools in Ireland
Primary schools in Ireland will not be allowed discriminate on the basis of religion from now on.
The role of religion will be removed in school admissions in virtually all primary schools in Ireland as part of a “historic” reform of school admissions in this country.
Approved by the Government on Tuesday, the Amendment to Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 on the role of religion in school admissions was published on Wednesday morning, with the amendments set to make important changes in three key areas.
- Removing the role of religion in school admissions for virtually all primary schools
- Providing for Irish medium schools to give priority to Irish speaking children
- Providing for the Minister to require a school to open a special class for children with special educational needs, where the National Council of Special Education deems it necessary.
Under the improved amendments, a recognised primary school will be in contravention of the Equal Status Act of 2000, if it has as part of its admission policy a criterion that gives a preference to applicants of a particular religion or denomination.
Announcing the change on Wednesday, Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton said: “It is unfair that a local child of no religion is passed over in favour of a child of religion, living some distance away for access to their local school. Parents should not feel pressured to baptise their child to get access to their local school.
“While 90% of our primary schools are of a Catholic ethos, recent figures show that over 20% (and growing) of our parent-age population is non-religious. In addition, recent marriage statistics for 2017 show that only approximately 51% of marriages occurred in a Catholic ceremony.”
The amendment will remove religion as a criterion which can be used in school admissions in over 95% of primary schools in Ireland. Under the proposed new law, there will be a protection to ensure that a child of minority faith can still access a school of their faith if that is their choice.
As the vast majority of schools in Ireland are of a Catholic ethos (18 out of 20 schools in Ireland), Catholic families will continue to be able to get their children into Catholic schools and Catholic schools will be able to protect their ethos. Local Catholic children will always have access to a Catholic ethos education if that is their choice.
Non-denominational children, meanwhile, will now find that for well over 95% of schools (all schools except minority ethos schools which may give priority admission to children of their own or similar religious ethos), they will be treated the same as all other families in admissions.
These changes will only impact oversubscribed primary schools (approximately 20%), which are predominantly located in large urban areas in Ireland.
Schools that are not oversubscribed must continue to accept all applicants, regardless of religion.
The announcement fulfils a key action in the Minister Bruton’s Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.
You can read the full details of the Amendment to Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 here.