Sir, – In your otherwise excellent editorial on the “baptism barrier” (January 5th), you state “many schools are flexible and inclusive”.
Some 96 per cent of taxpayer-funded primary schools in Ireland have a religious ethos and, as father to a three-year-old boy who happens to be unbaptised I have to ask, where are these flexible and inclusive schools? I have searched pretty hard and have yet to come across one (outside the 2 per cent of schools in the State run by Educate Together).
The Constitution sets out “the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school”. Around 90 per cent of our primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, and in virtually all of them children not of the Catholic religion are sent to the back of the class for 30 minutes of mindless busy work every day while the rest of the class receives faith formation. This segregates and stigmatises children as “other” on a daily basis throughout their childhood while also breaching a clear constitutional right as such children absorb every word of the lesson being taught – not exactly inclusiveness. Catholic patrons appear deaf to the simple and expedient solution of moving faith-formation lessons outside the school day.
If, when it stated many schools “are flexible and inclusive”, the editorial meant “will enrol children of any religious background”, then I am afraid this is simply factually wrong. Almost every school in this country prioritises four-year-old and five-year-old children in enrolment on the basis of their religion.
We must be wary of mistaking an undersubscribed school that is obliged by law to take any child, but will rigidly apply its discriminatory enrolment policy as soon as it is fully subscribed, for a school that does not have such a policy in the first place. The mere existence of a discriminatory enrolment policy at the local school places years of stress and anxiety on parents of children of no religion or of a minority faith as to whether they will be lucky enough to get a place when the time comes. It also, of course, encourages baptisms of convenience; Catholic parents are safe in the knowledge that their children will always be in the top enrolment category.
To be clear, in my experience Catholic primary schools are neither flexible nor inclusive. If there is an example of a Catholic school anywhere in the country that does not operate a Catholics first enrolment policy and does not segregate children on the basis of religion, I’d love to hear of it. – Yours, etc,