By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 March, 2014
Regrettable that debate on inclusion and inclusivity has focused on religious affiliation.
The General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has said the narrative that Catholic schools are selective, sectarian and do not educate children together “is false, if not mischievous.”
In his address to the CPSMA agm in Dublin on Friday, Fr Tom Deenihan also criticised the impression given that Catholic schools have “an unhealthy obsession with the teaching of religion, even to the exclusion or the detriment of literacy and numeracy.”
He said Catholic schools, both at primary and post-primary level, are sought after and the recent survey of parents in relation to patronage conducted by the Department of Education & Skills, illustrated this fact.
“Indeed, the irony of the matter is that many who make such an argument have attended such Catholic schools themselves and may very well be continuing to choose them for their family.”
Referring to the example of a school he was very familiar with, St Marie’s of the Isle Convent National School in Cork city, he said it had 218 pupils on its roll books.
The children come from 35 different countries and belonged to 13 different religions and denominations. They were served by four resource teachers and eight Special Needs Assistants.
“Who – be they politician, journalist or commentator – can say that this Catholic convent school is not inclusive in terms of religion, nationality or ability,” Fr Deenihan questioned.
He said this school was but one example of a Catholic school serving the community. “It is replicated in every diocese and town in Ireland.”
Fr Deenihan said it was “regrettable” that the whole debate on inclusion and inclusivity has focused on the single area of religious affiliation.
“Inclusion is much more than that and I say with certainty and conviction that our Catholic schools are as inclusive as any other and more so than many.”
The theme of this year’s CPSMA agm was ‘Catholic Schools, Serving the Community with Dignity and Care’, which the CPSMA CEO described as “not just central” to its schools but also timely.
“We do serve the community, there is a demand for the service that we provide and in providing that service and in remaining true to our ethos, we are not exclusive, sectarian or fundamental.”
He said the survey on patronage conducted by the Department of Education & Skills had shown that Catholic schools are inclusive, serve the community and are managed in a partnership by a voluntary board of management, representing patron, parent, teacher and community.
“They do enjoy the support of the communities that they serve. That fundamental point cannot be overlooked.”
Catholic schools, he added, by their very nature, recognise that “we are not made for this world only and so we teach about and prepare our students, as best we can, for an eternal life with God.”
“Are we to be deterred from doing that, are we to shrink from this belief and responsibility so that we will not cause offence?” he asked.
He described the argument as false because it is not so much a case of either/or than it is of both/and – Catholic schools prepare their students for this world – and the next.
Recalling Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin’s reference to the phenomenon of supporting divesting but not in one owns locality, Fr Deenihan said that “anomaly” is replicated countrywide.
“Many hold or support the principle of divesting as a concept but would not avail of it themselves. A challenge will be to cater for those who do not wish to attend a Catholic School, when such are a minority in a given area.”
However, that discussion is one for patrons, not management, and he pledged that the CPSMA would and must support the patrons in that process in any way it could.
Referring to the forthcoming canonisation of Blessed John Paul II and Fr Deenihan cited a paragraph from the former pontiff’s ‘The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium‘ in which he wrote, ‘Catholic schools, moreover, like State schools, fulfil a public role, for their presence guarantees cultural and educational pluralism and, above all, the freedom and right of families to see that their children receive the sort of education they wish for them’.
In the context of Ireland that freedom and right of families is important and is part of our Constitution, Fr Deenihan said.
The CPSMA is a school management association representing all the boards of management of the over 2,900 Catholic primary schools in the Republic of Ireland.