Wednesday, December 18, 2013

school discrimination?

There is something going on at the Irish Times. There's been four articles hostile to our denominational school system in less than a week (here , here, here, and here).

The first two are by Kitty Holland. Ms Holland is seething because her darling four year didn't get one of the scarce school places in Dublin 6. She calls it discrimination. She hasn't had her child baptised and says Holland junior can't get into a school as a result. She conveniently forgets that only two of the four schools that said no are in fact denominational. But then, bringing that up would make the discrimination case harder to make.

It seems to me that she has been treated the same as everyone else and I commend the various school Boards of Management she applied to for having the courage and integrity to stick by their admissions policies even at the risk of incurring the wrath of a well-known journalist.

In my opinion Ireland has a very flexible and open primary school system. Any group, of any ethos, whether that is a faith, philosophy, interest, or 'none of the above,' is free to come together to organise a school to meet their needs; and our government will assist by means of grants, subsidies, the payment of teachers' salaries, etc. The organisers, naturally, must put in a great deal of hard work, including the fund-raising needed to make up the shortfall between what the Department of Education pays and what it costs to run the school.

There's a well known shortage of school places where she lives; and an equally well known absence of schools of an appropriate ethos for her in Ireland as a whole. The obvious solution was that she join with like-minded people and apply to the Department like any other group. That she did not do so is hardly the fault of those who did. And it would be true discrimination if she were allowed to hijack their efforts and force the schools they have worked so hard to build and maintain to change their ethos to match hers.

Her claim that some are only getting their children baptised for the sake of a school place & otherwise have no involvement in religion unintentionally brings up an important issue that any such parents will not thank her for raising; that faith-based schools should look for more by way of proof of adherence than they do. Those willing to mime their way through a Sacrament should not be able to gain an unfair advantage over those who have too much integrity to do so.

The third article is from the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. She's also banging the discrimination drum. She says she wants to see a better balance between the autonomy of schools and national oversight to ensure that difficult to place children are not denied their right to an education by being refused a place in school.

The example she uses is of a child in care who was refused by 20 different schools. As far as I can make out, the refusals were not on denominational grounds, but because the schools didn't think they could manage the child. Still, if the schools didn't have the right to set admissions policies, then kids like this couldn't be refused, she reckons.
She doesn't seem to take into account that a school place does not automatically equate to an education; it has to be one in a school equipped to meet the individual needs of the child that led to their being difficult to place. If it is not, then their rights will not be met by forcing the school to take them; and the educational rights of the other students will be infringed as the school struggles to cope.

The issue here isn't discrimination; it's lack of resources. For children like this to get the education they need any school that takes them needs the required resources. Otherwise it will simply be a charade that damages the education of all the children involved.

The last article is about a call from the Integration Council to change the law so that denominational schools can't 'discriminate' in favour of those belonging to their ethos. Ehh ... colour me confused, but if that were to happen, wouldn't they cease to be denominational schools? And wouldn't that discriminate against parents who want a denominational schooling for their children, something that they are entitled to under our Constitution?

One thing that is clear from all of the above: the Irish Times, which is no friend to religion, has our schools firmly in their sights. Time to start manning the metaphorical barricades, folks. And get ready to man the literal ones which may come later.

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