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Church of Ireland patrons concerned over school admissions proposals

By Sarah Mac Donald - 14 April, 2017

“In recent years, faith schools have been poorly served, at times, by news media. Too often, there is a failure to ensure that hyperbole and opinion are counterbalanced with evidence-based facts.”

The Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland and Primate of Ireland have joined with eight other bishops who are patrons of the country’s Anglican primary schools to express concern over the school admissions proposals for primary education.

In a statement published on Thursday, Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Michael Jackson, along with the eight other bishops, emphasised that their schools cater for a minority Christian denomination in Irish society.

“We respect the rights of other minority groups to express their opinions and we believe that any view that seeks to bring a human rights perspective must also be pluralistic in outlook,” they said.

Referring to over 100 submissions the Minister for Education Richard Bruton received from schools under Church of Ireland patronage, they said that each school had expressed concern and alarm at the Minister’s proposals.

“This is a very strong voice from the members of our community which must be heard and recognised,” the statement said.

Noting that Minister Bruton, in his speech at the launch of his consultation process, stated that “given the make-up of the population, if a Protestant or an Islamic primary school for example was prohibited from using religion as an admissions criterion, it is hard to see how it could maintain an ethos among its school community and remain a school of that religion in any real sense”, the Church of Ireland bishops stressed that this is in fact what the Minister’s proposals envisaged.

They warned the Minister that seeking to “radically undermine the legal protections which support the provision of faith-based education by religious minorities in Ireland will do little for equality or fairness in Irish education”.

The Church of Ireland patrons added that there are other administrative approaches that the Minister could take to address the challenges posed in the very limited areas where oversubscription to schools and lack of capacity are creating difficulties.

“Not one school place will be added to the education system if any of these proposals are implemented,” they stressed.

The bishops added that changing the admissions rules as proposed would do nothing to increase resources in specific areas. “Instead the change will merely create a new cohort of children who are excluded from education within their own faith.”

They said that Church of Ireland schools are an important component of Church of Ireland communities and other Christian minority communities throughout the country.

“They provide an invaluable focal point for a faith community which is usually widely dispersed geographically.

Church of Ireland schools enjoy a strong link with their community and there exists a strong interdependence socially, spiritually and very often practically.

Many Church of Ireland schools owe their very existence and their subsequent development over generations to the generous and unwavering support of their parish and the wider Church of Ireland community.

To prevent a Church of Ireland school from prioritising children from that community will lead to a splintering and a diminishing of that link causing hurt, confusion and disillusionment, the bishops warned.

“The rights of a minority denomination should not be trampled on in a race towards a populist understanding of pluralism.”

They also described Church of Ireland primary schools as embedded among communities across the country and said they have a long-standing tradition of being inclusive, of welcoming pupils from widely differing faith traditions and many from backgrounds of no faith at all.

“Church of Ireland schools are child-centred, co-educational and are faith based, Christian in ethos,” the statement said.

Many non-religious parents choose schools under Church of Ireland patronage as they see the ethos of Church of Ireland schools as “an attractive moral and spiritual framework within which they wish their children to be educated”.

Elsewhere in their statement, the ten Church of Ireland bishops said it was “difficult to reconcile what we know and experience about the schools under Church of Ireland patronage with much of the public debate around school admissions and primary education in general.

“In recent years, faith schools have been poorly served, at times, by news media. Too often, there is a failure to ensure that hyperbole and opinion are counterbalanced with evidence-based facts.”

The statement was issued on behalf of:
The Most Rev Dr RL Clarke, Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh
The Most Rev Dr MJ StA Jackson, Primate of Ireland, Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough
The Most Rev P Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare
The Rt Rev J McDowell, Bishop of Clogher
The Rt Rev KR Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
The Rt Rev F Glenfield, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh
The Rt Rev PW Rooke, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry
The Rt Rev MAJ Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory
The Rt Rev Dr WP Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
The Rt Rev Dr K Kearon, Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe.

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