Comment: Equality of Access
Schools Equality Bill
“I will table a motion to call on the Government to introduce legislation that will respect equally the rights of all children, parents and teachers from all religions and none.
This Schools Equality Bill will specifically address:
- Patronage to ensure that children have a right to attend inclusive public schools
- Access to ensure that children have an equal right to attend their local public school
- Curriculum to ensure that children have an objective pluralist education
- Teaching to ensure that children have a right to the best teachers selected on merit
State funding of schools based on a particular majority in any given area results in segregation, discrimination and denial of basic human rights. The provision of local schools for people of all religions and non-religions is financially and legally untenable. In contrast running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs.
Education and Equality
It is a fundamental human right to be educated without being indoctrinated with or converted to any religion. The Irish State through its ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and other UN Conventions has agreed to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of all parents within the Irish education system. However Irish schools can legally discriminate against children and teachers on religious grounds. The UN and the Council of Europe have warned that our schools breach human rights.
State funded schools should have an inclusive public ethos, to respect everyone equally under Articles 42.1 and 42.3.1 of the Constitution. Moral education should be separate from religion as per Article 42.3.2. The State should not cede control of education to private patrons.
The Republic of Ireland has approximately 3,300 primary schools. The Irish State ‘provides for’ education and almost all of our national schools are publicly funded. Our National schools are directly financed by the State, but administered jointly by the State, a patron body, and local representatives. This patronage system means that, in essence, our national schools are private with over 90% of them run by the Catholic Church.
In addition, under their ‘Catholic First’ admissions policy many of our national schools classify non-Catholic children as Category 2’. This means that if a local national school is oversubscribed a child from the school’s catchment area can be turned away solely on the grounds of whether they have been baptised or not. If elected to the 25th Seanad I will table a motion for the Government to introduce legislation, and if necessary to call a referendum, to address issues of patronage, access, curriculum and teachers.
Schools Equality Bill (Background)
Patronage: Children have a right to attend inclusive public schools
State-funded schools should have an inclusive public ethos, to respect everyone equally under Articles 42.1 and 42.3.1 of the Constitution. Moral education should be separate from religion, as per Article 42.3.2. The State should not cede control of education to private patrons. Private ethos schools should be an optional extra, not the basis of the system. The Education Act needs to be amended to do this. Reform could start in the nine schools where the Minister for Education is the patron.
Access: Children have an equal right to attend their local public school
Children should have equal access to their local State-funded school, whatever their religion. The current Admission to Schools Bill will outlaw some discrimination, but it reinforces discrimination against atheist and minority faith families, calling it ‘lawful oversubscription criteria.’ Section 7.3(c) of the Equal Status Act needs to be deleted to prevent all religious discrimination. If oversubscribed, priority should be given to children with siblings in the school, then to local children, then use a lottery.
Curriculum: Children have a right to an objective pluralist education
Children should be taught the State curriculum, including teaching about religions and beliefs, in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, as per the European Convention on Human Rights. Faith formation should be outside the school day. Section 15.2(b) of the Education Act, and the curriculum need to be amended. Rule 68 of National Schools, that religious instruction is by far the most important subject and a religious spirit must inform and vivify the whole work of the school must be removed.
Teaching: Teachers have an equal right to work in state-funded schools
Children should be taught by the best teachers, and teachers should have equal access, based on merit, to jobs in State-funded schools. Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allows schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The current Section 37 Amendment Bill will protect Catholic LGBT teachers, but reinforces discrimination against atheist and minority faith teachers. Section 37 needs to be amended to prevent all religious discrimination against teachers