Thursday, 10 December 2015
Department of Education and Skills
Religious Instruction in Schools
197. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views regarding ending religious criteria for admissions to the model schools where she is the patron; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44654/15]
The model schools have their origin in the set of instructions drawn up by Chief Secretary Stanley in 1831 that empowered the Commissioners for National Education (National Education Board) to, inter alia, establish a model school for the training of teachers. From 1845 onwards model schools were established and managed by local inspectors. Model schools were found to be an unduly expensive method of training teachers, and their use for this purpose ceased from about 1883 onwards, the schools continuing to function as ordinary schools. The functions of the National Education Board were taken over by the Department of Education and the model schools continued to be managed by inspectors and funded by the Department. The Education Act 1998 placed the patronage of schools on a statutory basis. The Minister as owner of the model schools became the Patron of the model schools in accordance with the terms of the Act. The schools operate as Catholic or Protestant schools in accordance with the historic traditions that go back to their foundation and the community to be served at the time they were established. The Deputy will be aware that under the Equal Status Act, schools are not permitted to discriminate in admission on any of the grounds set out in the Act. However the Act contains an exemption which permits schools in which the objective is to provide education that promotes certain religious values, to admit a student of a particular religion in preference to others.
I published the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill in early April of this year. While no amendment to the Equal Status Act has been included in the published Admission to Schools Bill I have since made clear my view that the Equal Status Act must be amended so that all schools are required to prioritise local children, regardless of their religion while building in protection for the small number of minority faith schools which serve dispersed communities.This is a matter that needs to be addressed as a priority for the next Government so that it can be dealt with in advance of the next school year.