THE REPORT of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism has been published. Its implications for the ethos and identity of denominational schools are extremely far reaching. It aims at promoting 'inclusion' but at the price of denominational school identity.
In brief, the recommendations, if implemented, would:
- Set down conditions on how religion should be taught in denominational schools (Recommendations P8 and P9)
- Set down conditions on the display of religious symbols and art (Recommendation P10)
- Set down conditions on how prayers should be said (Recommendation P10)
- Remove the right of denominational schools to enrol children of their own faith ahead of other children in the event of overcrowding (Recommendation P5)
- Remove the right of denominational schools to permeate the school day with their ethos (Recommendation P7.1)
Overall, the report (which can be downloaded from here) is couched in the language of ‘human rights’. Various human rights instruments are quoted and the overriding concern is that no child be made to feel ‘excluded’ by what takes place in denominational schools.
To this extent, denominational schools must become as ‘inclusive’ as possible and this is why the above recommendations are made.
But added together these recommendations would make it very difficult for denominational schools to remain denominational in any meaningful sense.
Therefore, and perversely, in the name of diversity and pluralism, they amount to an attack on the rights of those parents who wish their children to receive a meaningfully denominational education.
To put it another way, the rights of parents who do not wish their children to be exposed to denominational education a way that makes them feel 'excluded' must override the rights of parents who want a truly denominational education for their children.
(Conveniently, the report ignores the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the Lautsi case. This ruling said that the display of the crucifix on the walls of State schools does not violate the rights of non-Christian children. Obviously, this ruling applies with double force to denominational schools).
But to make matters worse, the report effectively defines 'inclusion' in such a broad-ranging way that denominational schools are almost by their very nature ‘exclusive’ .
That is, the report's de facto definition of 'inclusion' makes it extremely difficult for denominational schools not to violate the ‘rights’ of certain children.
As a result, and to quote Professor Eamonn Conway and Dr Rik Van Nieuwenhove of Mary Immaculate College, writing in The Examiner, the report's recommendations would “effectively eradicate the rights of parents who want their children to have a faith-based education”.
Quoting Professor Conway and Dr Van Niuewenhove again, the report's recommendations represent “a serious threat to the right to denominational education in primary schools in Ireland”. There is simply no other realise way to interpret them.
Indeed, so hostile is the report in its intent (if not in its language) towards denominational schools that the Catholic Church should give serious consideration to halting the transfer of any of its schools to new patron bodies until the rightful independence of its remaining schools (and all denominational schools) is guaranteed in law by the State.
We now await the response by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to the report
(The original article by Professor Conway and Dr Van Nieuwhenhove can be found here, and an article by John Waters on the same topic can be found here).