The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has called for a range of curtailments to the rights of denominational schools in its submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.
Among other demands, the document targets the employment and admissions policies of denominational schools, as well as their right to permeate the school day with the religious ethos of the school.
It calls for the repeal of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act,
Section 37 allows schools and other faith-based organisations to hire staff in such a way as to protect their ethos. For example, it allows denominational schools to refuse to hire openly homosexual or atheistic teachers on the grounds that they might undermine the ethos of the school.
The INTO's submission says that Section 37 “allows for discrimination against teachers by schools” in order to uphold their ethos.
The INTO also argues that, within the regulations that govern denominational schools, the rule that prescribes that a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school “is not fair to anyone”.
It says: “[T]he period for religious teaching can scarcely be fixed if a religious spirit is to inform the whole work of the school and so a child is present at some form of religious instruction which takes place outside of the period of time fixed for religious instruction.”
Parents who do not share the ethos of the school “can still have fears about proselytisation”, it adds.
It suggests that patrons of denominational schools could “decide to confine religious education to specific periods of time during the school day”.
It continues: “Patrons could also provide advice and guidance to schools in relation to for example, the provision of a short period of reflection at the start or the end of a school day in place of a prayer. Such periods of reflection might be public or personal but inclusive and respectful of all beliefs in the classroom. There might also be educational merit in this in making such activities more child?centred and relative to children’s lives rather than the reciting of adult prayers”.
The submission also suggests that Section 7.3(c), which allows schools to take the religion of pupils into account when enrolling students, in order to maintain the ethos of the school “should be deleted from the legislation”.
It says that the provision “has been incorporated into the enrolment policy of many denominational schools, and has exacerbated enrolment difficulties in some areas of rapid population growth”.
And while it accepts that there are property rights issues surrounding the transfer of schools from the Church to alternative patronage, the document argues that these “should not be a barrier to transfer of patronage where this is the expressed wish of the community”.
It says: “The financial contributions made by patrons must be weighed against the substantial public funding provided for the construction, maintenance and running costs of school buildings over many years along with continued state support for denominational schooling where this is the expressed wish of parents.”
The INTO document is one of a number of submissions made to the Forum.
The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) also made a submission to the Forum, which included the findings of an internet poll of primary schools principals.
Their poll showed that there was a sharp divide among school principals when it came to the debate over patronage. According to the survey, 10pc of principals feel the present models accommodate diversity and 38pc feel only minor modifications are necessary.
Meanwhile, 17pc feel a major overhaul of the current models is required and a further 34pc feel the present models need to be completely replaced.
According to the poll, 49pc feel that the current patronage models cater well for all faiths and none and 45pc feel Church management of schools works and should not change.
However 44pc of principals feel current models probably generate more problems than benefits and 52pc feel it is no longer appropriate to have schools owned/managed denominationally.
Educate Together, who act as a non-denominational patron, also made a submission to the Forum, in which recommends that what it calls the privileges granted to school patrons “should be balanced by a set of regulations that ensure appropriate accountability to the public”.
It suggests that such regulations might “assist if the State” in ensuring inclusion if it were “to require all school patrons to demonstrate their practical commitment to this through a new patron regulation process”.