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Faith schools’ admissions policies defended

By Sarah Mac Donald - 19 December, 2013

Archbishop Michael JacksonThe Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin has rejected claims that faith schools in Ireland operate a policy of “religious discrimination” in their admissions policies.

Archbishop Michael Jackson told CatholicIreland.net on Wednesday that as the patron of 49 faith schools, “I don’t think we exercise a policy of admission that is de facto discriminatory.”

He was responding to a claim made by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, in her submission to the Department of Education on draft legislation on schools selection policies.

In her submission, Ms Logan accused denominational schools of operating a policy of “religious discrimination” through Section 7 of the Equal Status Act which allows faith schools to select students on the basis of their religion.

Calling for the provision to be removed, she said where a denominational school is over-subscribed, children who do not belong to the school’s denomination are at an unfair disadvantage.

However, the Anglican Primate of Ireland told CatholicIreland.net that the Constitution makes provision for parents to exercise a choice to have their children attend a school “in the tradition of the faith and ethos which they hold dear.”

The Archbishop was speaking after he launched this year’s Black Santa Sit Out which aims to raise money for St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, the Dublin Simon Community, Protestant Aid, Trust and the Church of Ireland Overseas Aid (Bishops’ Appeal).

Dr Jackson, who is patron of 49 denominational schools in the Anglican tradition, said this constitutional and democratic right was not in any way “designed to be a slap in the face” to people who want a more secular or pluralist education.

He said part of the difficulty was that Ireland had inherited an educational system where historically the Churches had provided education for altruistic reasons and now found themselves “very much boxed in to denominational self identity.”

Speaking as somebody who has the patronage of 49 schools, he said, admitting students on the basis of religious affiliation was “selective.”

Archbishop Jackson said his responsibility as patron was to facilitate an ethos in the life of these schools which is primarily Christian and in the spirit of a particular denomination.

His views echo those of the Chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership in Ireland who earlier this week rejected the Ombudsman for Children’s claims of “religious discrimination”.

Fr Michael Drumm, Chairperson of the CSP, said there were parents in the state who wanted faith-based schools for their children.

“Faith-based schools use adherence to a particular religious denomination as one criterion because there are parents who want such an education for their children,” he told CatholicIreland.net.

He said the Equal Status Act makes clear that when a school uses religious affiliation as a ground for selecting students, the school is not engaged in discrimination.

Rather, it is acting in accordance with the constitutional right to freedom of religion, he said.

This right includes the right to establish schools of a particular denomination and to provide those schools for parents who wanted them.

He also highlighted that in Ireland “the vast majority of schools, including Catholic schools, are not over-subscribed” but are open to all children whose parents apply for admission, irrespective of their affiliations.

Fr Michael Drumm (2)According to Fr Drumm, the problem of over-subscription affects just 20% of schools in the Dublin area and it is believed most of those schools lie within a certain geographic part of the capital.

Nationally, most schools (80%) including Catholic schools, are seeking students, he said and added that religious affiliation for these school would not form the basis of their enrolment policies. 

He underlined that in the minority of cases, where schools are over-subscribed, those schools must publish the criteria they use in their selection of students.

Separately, Archbishop Jackson was the first person to donate to the Black Santa’s collection box.  

The Black Santa appeal, which he launched with Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Oisín Quinn, usually generates up to €25,000 annually for a number of charities.

However, the Archbishop acknowledged, “We simply don’t know what kind of money will come through this year.”

He said there was “an urgent need” for regulation of the charity sector in Ireland because people are confused, anxious and angry over the CRC scandal.

He said the lack of regulation of charitable fundraising meant people were concerned about making donations and what was happening to the money they give to charities.

“I think it would be a tragedy if people who are volunteers and put in time and, quite often finance of their own, find themselves penalised and demoralised” because of the CRC scandal he said.

If the charitable donations are down, it is the recipients that suffer, he warned.

He expressed the hope that rather than abandoning charities, most people would stand by charities and fundraising ventures they knew.

“Call me naïve but it might actually work the other way round because people might begin to say: ‘we know these people. They talk to us and explain everything to us.’”

He said the Black Santa appeal was different  to CRC because “there is no administrative superstructure.”

Launch of Black Santa Sit-Out Appeal - 16.12.11Students from Kildare Place Church of Ireland School sang hymns at the launch of the appeal at St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street in Dublin.

The appeal will continue right up until Christmas Eve and each day the Vicar of St Ann’s, the Rev David Gillespie, and other clerical colleagues from around the diocese, will remain outside the church from 10am until 6pm collecting money for a number of charities.

Eleven year olds Carla Moran and Jill Rufli told CatholicIreland.net that the difference between the Black Santa and Santa Clause is that “Santa Clause brings presents to us but the Black Santa brings presents to the ones who don’t get presents.”

Ian Packham, principal of Kildare Place School, which is attached to the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines told CatholicIreland.net that for the last six years the school choir has been participating in the Black Santa appeal.

The school was originally attached to St Ann’s church in Dawson Street before it moved to Rathmines in the 1960s.

“Six years ago we were asked to come in and sing at the Black Santa appeal and now it has become a school tradition. Every year when the kids come into choir in September, the first thing they ask is ‘are we singing at the Black Santa appeal this year?’”

He added, “As a staff we would work very hard to highlight to the students how lucky and privileged they are every Christmas. We would do a lot of work in the school with local charities such as Alice Leahy’s Trust.”

The school principal continued, “Alice visits the school annually to explain where their money goes and how it makes a difference. The children see that these are the people in their community that they are helping – that there are people close to home who need help at Christmas time.”

The Black Santa sit out is modelled on a similar appeal, which has been run by successive Deans of St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast for many years. It became known as the Black Santa appeal because of the long heavy black cloaks worn by the clergy to keep out the cold.

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