Minister Bruton announces Forum on Religion in Primary School Admissions as part of consultation process
15 May 2017
The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today (Monday) announced that he will hold a Forum on the role of Religion in Primary School Admissions on Monday 29th May, as part of a broader consultation process on the subject currently being carried out.
Minister Bruton stated earlier this year that he believes it is unfair that preference is given by publicly-funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school. The Minister also stated his belief that it is unfair that parents, who might otherwise not do so, feel pressure to baptise their children in order to gain admission to their local school.
As part of the consultation, a call for written submissions which closed recently attracted almost 1000 responses from a combination of individuals, schools and stakeholder organisations.
In announcing the public consultation, Minister Bruton said that following the receipt and analysis of written submissions, consideration would be given as to whether any additional steps are needed as part of the consultation process. Today’s announcement of the half-day Forum follows up on that announcement.
Minister Bruton has stated that this initiative will focus on the primary school system as that is where the problem is most acutely felt.
Invitations to the National Forum are being sent today to all major education stakeholder organisations as well as to every organisation or individual who made a written submission as part of the public consultation. However, in an effort to ensure that the conversation at the Forum is productive, spaces will have to be limited, and so anyone with an interest in attending is urged to respond early to the invitation.
Minister Bruton said:
“This is a highly complex and difficult issue, with strong feelings genuinely held on all sides of the argument. There are no easy solutions to this problem, with difficulties in areas including constitutional law, administration of the schools system and protection of minority religious groups.
“However doing nothing is not an option in my view. While only 4% of our primary schools are under non-religious patronage, 10% of the population in the recent census stated that they are non-religious, with this figure even higher for those among usual parenting ages. One third of all marriages now take place outside of any religion.
“My aim is to find a solution which addresses this problem, while respecting the very strongly-held and legitimate desire of minority religious groups to run schools which are genuinely of their own ethos.
“I hope that people will respond positively and constructively to my invitation to this Forum, and participate in the event in a spirit aimed at finding viable solutions to this complex and difficult issue”.
Notes To Editors
Minister Bruton has set out four possible approaches for dealing with the issue, in primary schools in the first instance, including:
1. A catchment area approach, prohibiting religious schools from giving preference to children of their own religion who live outside the catchment area ahead of non-religious children who live inside the catchment
2. A ‘nearest school rule’, allowing religious schools to give preference to a religious child only where it is that child’s nearest school of that particular religion
3. A quota system, which would allow a religious school give preference to children of its own religion in respect of only a certain proportion of places, meaning that the remaining places would be allocated based on other admissions criteria – proximity to the school, lottery etc
4. An outright prohibition on religious schools using religion as a factor in admissions, meaning that all places would be allocated based on other factors. Within this approach, there are three sub-options:
a. Outright repeal of section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act in respect of publicly-funded primary schools
b. Repeal of the first part of section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act in respect of publicly-funded primary schools, but make provision to allow denominational schools to require parents or students to sign a declaration stating that they support, respect, will cooperate with or won’t disrupt the ethos of the school.
c. Repeal of the first part of section 7(3) (c) of the Equal Status Act in respect of publicly-funded primary schools, but make provision to allow minority schools to reserve a certain percentage of places for children of their religion
The Minister also set out the need to avoid possible pitfalls and unintended consequences with each of these approaches, including most importantly possible impacts on minority religions and on the wishes of Protestant, Jewish, Islamic and other communities to be able to run schools in accordance with their ethos and admit children from their communities to attend those schools.
Other possible consequences to be avoided include possible breaches of the constitution, technical and administrative difficulties impacting on the capacity to effectively run the system of over 3000 primary schools and the possibility of creating ‘postcode lotteries’, such as other countries have experienced, resulting in pronounced divergence in quality of schools in more advantaged compared to less advantaged areas.
Original article available at http://www.education.ie/en/Press-Events/Press-Releases/2017-Press-Releases/PR17-05-15-1.html#sthash.zkvPZNu8.dpuf
Fines for kids’ unrestricted internet use ‘won’t work’
Thursday, May 11, 2017 By Conall Ó Fátharta, Irish Examiner Reporter
CyberSafetyIreland says education not prohibition is most effective way to protect children online.
Proposed legislation to fine parents who allow their children to own phones with unrestricted access to the internet has been criticised by an internet safety group.
Under the planned legislation being prepared by, chairman of the Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs, Fine Gael’s Jim Daly, retailers would also face fines if they sell a mobile device with internet access to a child under the age of 14.
He said the idea for the legislation came following an appearance by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) before the committee where it said online safety was “the single greatest threat to children in our time”.
Defending the difficulty in policing such a law, Mr Daly said it was about setting a standard and creating awareness.
“It’s not about unsupervised access, we do need to regulate. Essentially you are allowing a child of seven or eight years of age to have a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type, they can go gambling, cyber bullying. We protect our children from things like sunbeds by law, just like alcohol, tobacco.”
“When the smoking ban was proposed people said it was unenforceable. Many laws are very difficult to police.
“There is a law against slapping children, I could be at home slapping my children all day, nobody is going to know about it. You don’t send the police in to police it, it is about setting a standard. It’s about setting an ideal, it is about creating awareness,” he told RTÉ radio.
However, CEO of CyberSafeIreland Alex Cooney said that while it was welcome Mr Daly had focused attention on the importance of cyber safety for children accessing the internet, the proposed legislation was not offering the right approach to tackling the issue.
“Prohibition does not work. We know this from talking to thousands of children and parents across Ireland over the past year. Children as young as nine are regularly accessing the internet, often on their own devices and often without appropriate supervision. We agree that adult supervision and guidance is absolutely critical but we strongly believe that the answer lies in education, not prohibition,” she said.
Ms Cooney said children and their parents should be educated on using devices in a smart and responsible way while providing them with reasonable guidelines and resources.
She also said the Government should focus its attention on putting in place a national strategy on internet safety for children as a starting point.
Director of policy and communications at the ISPCC Clíodhna O’Neill said the Government needed to implement a national cyber-safety strategy for children which incorporated a range of elements — including education, law reform and increased regulation.
Ms O’Neill also said that, while unsupervised access to the internet for children was not a good thing, at-risk children needed internet access and privacy in order to access some of the ISPCC services.
Migrant pupils falling behind at reading, research shows
Last Updated: Friday, June 16, 2017, 08:20
Many migrant children are falling behind on reading performance compared to their classmates, according to evidence to be presented at a conference at Maynooth University.
Overall, first generation migrants in developed countries perform on average 10 per cent worse than students without an migrant background when it comes to reading performance.
While Ireland is slightly ahead of the OECD average, there remains a significant gap between migrants and non-migrants when it comes to reading.
Professor Frances McGinnity of the ESRI is due to present evidence from the Growing Up in Ireland survey which shows migrant students have lower scores on English reading than Irish peers. The gap is largest for Eastern Europeans.
African students have slightly lower maths scores at the same age, but other migrant groups do not differ from Irish students.
While English-language ability plays a key role, the overall migrant-native achievement gap at age nine is not large in Ireland.
She says the fact that Ireland does not have a long history of migration, the diversity of the migrant group and the relatively high qualifications of migrant parents mean the Irish experience differs from some other countries.
Overall, migrant children in Ireland have positive attitudes to school and their parents have very high aspirations for them, according to the study.
“These findings do suggest monitoring of both spending on English language provision and the effectiveness of such provision are important elements to facilitate the integration of migrant children in Irish schools,” Prof McGinnity said.
“Monitoring the proportion of migrant students in schools and their performance in State exams is also important to detect potential problems and areas of concern.”
The findings will be presented at the fifth annual Maynooth University education forum, which will see international experts demonstrate how migrant students are adversely affected by a range of factors, including language proficiency, socio-economic inequality, and teacher expectations.
Professor Irena Kogan of the University of Mannheim says these inequalities manifest themselves in student performances across a range of areas.
“By virtue of their often less advantageous economic positions, students with migrant backgrounds are less likely to have access to tutoring and learning supervision,” she says.
“Migrants are also effected by ethnic and socio-economic segregation, which often concentrates large numbers of them in poorer quality schools.”
Although data across the OECD reveals many challenges for students from migrant backgrounds, Professor Kogan also highlights some advantages they possess compared to other young people, such as higher educational aspirations.
“Migrants who choose to leave their home countries to pursue a better life elsewhere have demonstrated that they are highly motivated, and they often bring with them a drive towards upward mobility and a higher value of education.”
The forum is also due to hear of how differing expectations from teachers plays a role in determining the performance of migrant students.
A 2016 study from Germany, for instance, shows teachers expected lower performances from their Turkish students in German and maths. Students from better-off backgrounds were typically expected to perform better.
“There might be an element of self-fulfilling prophesy in this situation,” said Prof Kogan said.
“Students often perform in accordance with their teachers’ expectations. Positive expectations lead to better academic performance. Education is a two-sided process, and teachers need to be wary of pre-empting student competence and capabilities.”
Children to lose school places as waiting lists phased out
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 30, 2017, 06:36
Parents who have put down their children’s names years in advance for fee-paying secondary schools will lose their advantage under new legislation which will phase out such waiting lists within about three to five years.
It is understood Department of Education officials are planning to introduce a relatively short lead-in time for the phasing out of waiting lists under amendments to school admissions legislation.
However, many private secondary schools – such as Blackrock College, Belvedere College and Glenstal Abbey – have the names of young children on waiting lists for admission for up to a decade or more.
A spokesman for Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the use of waiting lists for school admission can give rise to discrimination, in particular against people who have newly moved into an area.
He confirmed that amendments to the legislation to be published shortly will set out a short transitionary period for schools to adapt to the new legislation.
The new laws were originally due to come into force from September 2017, though it now looks likely it will be postponed until 2018 due to delays in the legislative process.
Many parents had hoped a much longer lead-in time that would allow them to hold on to places they felt they had secured for their children.
The National Parents’ Council Post-Primary has previously said banning waiting lists would frustrate many, while the school management body which represents most fee-paying schools has called for “appropriate” lead-in times to allow schools and parents to adapt.
Principals of a number of south Dublin secondary schools also say they expect legal actions from parents who will lose automatic school places due to any ban.
Under the school admissions bill, all children will be required to apply to enrol in a school in the year before enrolment.
This is aimed at levelling the playing pitch in admissions for children who move to a new area.
In addition, schools will be forced to set aside no more than 25 per cent of places for children of past pupils under the draft legislation.
The legislation will also ban any fees charged by schools in relation to admission, and require all schools to publish their admissions policies, including details on how they will provide for children who decline to take part in religious instruction.
Why is discrimination still tolerated in our education system?
Last Updated: Monday, May 15, 2017, 18:00
As the public consultation on addressing the issue of the “baptism barrier” in school admissions closes, the Department of Education is due to hold a round-table discussion on the options outlined by Minister for Education Richard Bruton to address it.
I question the notion that a school could really be inclusive if in its admissions policy can exclude children on the grounds of their religion.
Allowing the discriminatory status quo to continue sends a message that the best interests of all children is not central to our policy-making on schools.
Equate, a children and family rights organisation committed to equality, believes that a fairer, child-centred system for dealing with school admissions must be put in place.
A recent opinion piece in The Irish Times – “Schools admission idea is policy equivalent of drive-by shooting” – avoids the key issue in the school admissions policy debate: the issue of equality.
For too long equality has not been a central tenet of our education system.
The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in 2012 called for the Equal Status Act to be amended, stating that “equitable enrolment policies are essential for achieving fairness and diversity”.
The current law impedes the Department of Education in its “duty to provide for education for all children”. There is political consensus that the law cannot remain as it is.
Groups working in Ireland towards an equal fairer society want to see change. The ISPCC, Pavee Point, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Epic, the Migrant Rights Centre and Belong To have all called for this law to be amended.
Statutory rights bodies such as the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman for Children’s Office have submitted to the Oireachtas that the Equal Status Act should be amended in the best interests of all children.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on Ireland to end religious discrimination in its school admissions policies.
And finally, the parents of Ireland want change. Independent research commissioned by Equate shows that 72 per cent of parents want the law changed so that baptism can no longer be a requirement for school admission.
Problem not just urban
This issue is not just an urban one or one of oversubscription, as has been suggested in some quarters.
The issue of equal rights has particular significance for increasingly diverse rural communities. Even one child refused a place because of their religion is discriminatory and in any other walk of life would be illegal.
Equate has been open about its objectives of increasing the number of multidenominational schools, of making the school day more inclusive and of ending religious discrimination in admissions policies. Equate has no desire to end religious education in Ireland or to target any particular religion. To suggest so demonstrates a disregard for the work we have been engaged in.
The baptism barrier was a by-product of the Equal Status Act, which was enacted fewer than 20 years ago. Faith schools of the dominant patrons in Irish education thrived before its enactment and we see no reason why its repeal would unjustly impact any minority religion.
Quite the opposite, in fact, as currently members of minority religions who do not live within a reasonable distance of a denominational school specifically attuned to their beliefs, which is the vast majority of families of minority religions as recorded in the census, are disadvantaged. This would allow fairer access for all.
The baptism barrier is not the only issue affecting our schools, but if parents did not feel pressured to baptise their children in order to access a school place – 24 per cent of parents, according to independent research commissioned by Equate – then a truer picture would begin to emerge of those who wish to access faith schools for their children.
Lack of democratisation
Research carried out by Towers Watson in 2015 on behalf of the Dublin Association of Priests also showed that if the baptism barrier were removed at any point prior to 2030, the number of baptisms would fall.
To suggest that public policy should ignore the wishes of the citizens of this country as indicated in various surveys is yet another example of the lack of democratisation of Ireland’s education system.
The debate on an inclusive education system is one for all our citizens and should be constructive and civil.
Children’s rights, children’s best interests and meeting the needs of all citizens should be central to our publicly funded schools.
It is disappointing that an institution that manages 89 per cent of all primary schools refuses to acknowledge that placing barriers to education for nonreligious or children of minority religions has an impact on the children and families it purports to serve.
At Equate, we are working to convey the negative consequences of this policy of exclusion, and we will continue to represent the voices of the parents we meet and who make contact with us.
Michael Barron is executive director of Equate