Updated: 16/01/17 : 07:58:48
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Minister plans to tackle 'baptism barrier' in schools

Education Minister Richard Bruton is due to announce plans this morning to legislate on the controversial school admissions system.

Under the so-called 'baptism barrier', many children cannot access religious primary schools unless they have been baptised in a Christian faith.

New research by the campaign group EQUATE shows that almost one in four parents of children of school-going age would not have baptised their child if they did not need it to gain entry to their local school.

EQUATE Executive Director Michael Barron says there is growing momentum across Irish society to remove the baptism barrier.

He said: "We've heard from parents who actually regret baptising their children against their beliefs solely on the basis of getting their children into a school.

"And we've heard last year from the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin who said he really did not believe in the practice of children being baptised in order to gain entry into their local school, and neither do we.

"I think there is widespread agreement that baptising a child to get into a school is really not a practice that anybody can support in a modern democracy."

More than 95% of the 3,300 primary schools are under control of a religious patron, but almost 90% are Catholic.

“Over a third of couples who are getting married are choosing to do so in a non-religious ceremony, and all the evidence points to a population in which very significantly fewer than 90% of young families are religious,” Mr Bruton said.

At a seminar on the issue, he will single out the practice of some religious schools giving preference to children of their own faith who live a distance away over those of a different faith, or none, living close to the school.

Mr Bruton will set out four possible approaches in relation to primary schools:

- Banning religious schools from giving preference to children of their own religion from outside the catchment area, ahead of non-religious children who live inside the catchment.

- Allowing religious schools give preference to a child of their own religion only where it is the child’s nearest school of that faith.

- Allowing preference be given to a child of the school’s religion for a set proportion of places, with remaining places allocated using other admissions criteria like distance from school.

- The fourth option he will set out is to introduce an outright ban on religion being used as a factor in admissions. Within such an approach, he will say, religious schools could have capacity to require parents or students indicate support or respect for the school ethos.

Mr Bruton highlights pitfalls and unintended consequences, particularly the ability of Islamic, Jewish, Protestant or other minority faiths to run schools in accordance with their ethos and admit children from their communities.