Amendment to Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 on the role of religion in school admissions approved by government
Oversubscribed primary schools will not be allowed discriminate on the basis of religion, minority religions protected
The Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. has today (Wednesday, 9th of May 2018) published three Report Stage amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 which will have a historic impact on how children access their local primary school.
Today’s announcement fulfils a key action in the Minister’s Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.
The amendments, which were approved by government yesterday (Tuesday), will make important changes in three key areas by:
The role of religion in admission to primary schools
This amendment seeks to meet the needs of all parents in a fair and balanced way.
Announcing the change, the Minister 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 being published by the Minister today will remove religion as a criterion which can be used in school admissions in over 95% of our primary schools. 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.
This change balances the rights of three different groups: minority religion families, catholic families, and non-denominational families.
- Minority religion families, because of their small size within the overall population, could find it extremely difficult to access schools of their own religious ethos. As a result of these changes, children of minority religions will be able access such schools.This exception, for minority faith children, is because only 1 out of every 20 of our primary schools are of minority ethos and the need to ensure that children of minority faith can access an education through their ethos, if that is their choice.
- Catholic families will continue to be able to get their children into Catholic schools; and Catholic schools will be able to protect their ethos, as 18 out of every 20 of our schools are of a Catholic ethos and therefore, local catholic children will always have access to a Catholic ethos education, if that is their choice.
- Non-denominational Children 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 (approx. 20%), which are predominantly located in large urban areas.
Schools that are not oversubscribed must continue to accept all applicants, regardless of religion.
Providing for Irish medium schools to give priority to Irish speaking children
This amendment to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 will allow Irish medium schools (where it is their policy to do so) to give priority in admission to students who have a reasonable age appropriate level of oral fluency in the Irish language, where such fluency would be at risk of regressing if the student were not admitted to an Irish medium school.
Under the amendment such schools will be required to take into account whether a child has a special educational need in the context of determining what a reasonable age appropriate level of Irish for that child would be.
The amendment provides that the applicant (parent) must provide evidence to the school to show that the child has a reasonable age appropriate level of oral fluency. The parent has a choice as to the evidence he or she wishes to provide. They can for example, if they wish, provide a video recording to demonstrate the child’s fluency. Some parents may prefer to attend the school for interview and that will be permitted.
Providing for the Minister to require a school to open a special class for children with special educational needs
This amendment will give the Minister the power to compel a school to open a special class or classes where the National Council for Special Education has identified a need for such provision within an area. This will complement the provisions already included in the Bill which will provide for a situation where a child with special educational needs cannot find a school place, and allow the National Council for Special Education to designate a school place for the child
The Minister said that “This government is committed to ensuring every child with special educational needs has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. In 2018, almost €1.8 billion is being invested in Special Education, nearly one fifth of the overall Education budget, and up 43% since 2011.”
The Minister also announced that he would, once the Bill is enacted, quickly commence the provisions published today in relation to the role of religion in school admissions and a power to open a special class so that they would apply to children entering school in the 2019/2020 school year. The provision in relation to the Irish language will enter into operation once the Bill is fully commenced.