POLL: Are parents limited when choosing a school for their children?

Critics have argued that many multi-denominational schools are in urban areas, leaving rural parents without options

POLL: Are parents limited when choosing a school for their children?

File photo. Image: RollingNews.ie

As parents & children get ready for the new school year, the debate over the role of religion in Irish schools has again reopened. 

The Department of Education says the "vast majority" - more than 90% - of Irish schools are under the patronage of religious denominations, with 90% of those schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

Education Minister Richard Bruton announced plans earlier this year for 400 multi and non-denominational schools by 2030.

However, a recent admissions bill will not remove the clause that allows schools to discriminate on the basis of religion.

The Government's Education Committee is currently considering a bill to amend the Equal Status Act, with Labour saying their proposal "seeks to balance the constitutional right of religious bodies to organise and run schools with the rights of the child to have access to his or her local school".

Yesterday, Educate Together announced that nine more multi-denominational schools will open under their patronage next week.

The new schools mean there will be a total of 81 Educate Together primary schools and nine second-level schools in Ireland.

Educate Together says: "Parents should not have to be beholden to any religious institution for the vindication of their right to a state-funded education for their children.

"Educate Together provides a model that accepts and treats all children equally and will continue to lobby for a true alternative to the virtual monopoly held by religious patrons in Irish education."

Critics have argued that many multi-denominational schools are in urban areas, leaving rural pupils without options.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn argued that parents' human rights are being ignored by Ireland's failure to provide non-religious schools.

"There are approximately 3,200 primary schools around the country - and 1,700 of them are in areas where you couldn't justify another school.

"[There is] a real challenge for those who live in those parts of the country and who don't want their children to have faith formation as part of their education, but do want them to go to school locally with other kids," he said.

He suggested religious education should take place at the beginning or the end of the school day to give parents a choice whether they want their child to participate.

Speaking on Breakfast, Newstalk's Bobby Kerr refuted the argument that there is little choice for parents sending their children to school.

"Sometimes when you see kids in Catholic schools that opt out of Confirmation and Communion, I think that can be unfair to the child because they're seen as different or a minority group," he argued.

"There are Church of Ireland schools, there are other schools - I think there are choices. They may not be a convenient choice - you may have to travel or go to school that is outside the area. But there are choices."

He added that "I still think that there's a lot of people trying to change the ethos of a school to suit them. I also believe in letting your own children decide."