Statement by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) on Catholic Primary Schools admission policies

27 Sep 2007


27th September 2007

Statement by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) on Catholic Primary Schools admission policies

At its meeting on September 18th 2007 the Standing Committee of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) discussed the letter of September 13th from Mr Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority, to Monsignor Dan O’ Connor, General Secretary of CPSMA, regarding the Catholic Primary Schools admission policies.

The Standing Committee decided to ask CPSMA’s legal advisors, Arthur O’Hagan and Co., to seek an opinion from Marguerite Bolger B.L., a leading Discrimination Law expert, on Mr Crowley’s letter.

Contrary to what the Equality Authority has suggested, Catholic Primary Schools are not in breach of the Equal Status Act.

In summary, the legal advice received said that the CPSMA Schools admission policy is not in breach of the Equal Status Act.
– The policy is protected under Section 7(3) C of the Act. – The Equal Status Act provides for two alternative scenarios in which a school can determine their admission policies.

Where a denominational school admits persons of a particular religious denomination in preference to other students applying to the school, the school does not have to prove that its policy is essential to maintain the ethos of the school. This applies particularly in cases of over subscription. Only in cases where the school refuses to admit a person who is not of that denomination the school must prove that this is essential to maintain the ethos.

It is, therefore, of no consequence in terms of the suggestion that an admission policy preferring the members of a denomination is discriminating on grounds of religion.

In addition the Equality Authority in its letter suggests that an enrolment policy which gives preference to Catholic children could be indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of race.

Denominational education is recognised in many European countries and it is a legitimate aim for parents not only in Europe but in other countries to expect a place in a school that reflects their faith and values.

The CPSMA has also been advised that the application of the European Race Directive in the area of school enrolments, in the circumstances outlined by the Authority, is far from clear and that, even if such an issue were raised, it is likely that the principle of “Objective justification” (i.e. different treatment is justified by an legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary), would apply. CPSMA believes that the principle of denominational education, which has long been not only accepted but chosen by thousands of parents over the years, both in Ireland and abroad, would be deemed to comprise a “legitimate aim” within the means of the Race Directive.

It has always been and continues to be reasonable for a denominational school to prefer applicants of the same religious denomination in their enrolment policies. It would be most unfair if, in a given locality, a Catholic family were unable to enrol their child in the local Catholic school.

It is important to note that there are 100 schools catering for children with special needs and 2,917 mainstream schools under Catholic patronage. No child has been excluded from these schools on the grounds that such an exclusion was necessary to maintain the schools’ ethos.

The serious shortage of school places that have arisen in a small number of areas is not as a result of the CPSMA admission policies. There are three Catholic Primary Schools in Balbriggan town. All of these schools have been extended to accommodate the increasing population.

There is a Church of Ireland School in Balbriggan, an existing Educate Together School, and a Gaelscoil. It is obvious that all of these schools were unable to take the extra children looking for places. Despite the fact that the Catholic Primary Schools in Balbriggan indicated their concerns and were allocated an extra infant class in two schools for 2007-2008, and two of the Catholic Primary Schools have eight language support teachers for the pupils who do no have English as their mother tongue, there is still a shortage of spaces, and this led to the founding of Bracken Educate Together school, now housed in property held by Catholic Trustees. The Gaelscoil is also in the same campus.

There are serious issues regarding the provision not only of housing but also of all services for people who are arriving in Balbriggan.

In the past the Catholic patrons and other patrons bought a school site and sought recognition for the Primary School from the Minister for Education & Science. This is no longer the case since the establishment of the New Schools Advisory Body. The patrons now apply to this body for consideration to establish a Primary School and there is a process of decision making and consultation with other patrons and the Department by this Advisory Body before a new Primary School is recommended for recognition by the Minister for Education & Science.

Balbriggan’s situation is as a result of an increased population without proper planning, and not because of CPSMA admission policy.

In Adamstown in West Dublin there is the best example of planning and good practice. The Department bought a school site for two independent schools on the one site. After applications were considered by the New School Advisory Body, the Minister recognised one school under Educate Together patronage and the other school, called St. John the Evangelist School, under the patronage of Archbishop Martin.

The schools were ready before the school year began, there is no pressure for places and, in St. John the Evangelist School, this is the breakdown of the student population:

  • 50% are not Catholic and the majority of pupils are black;
  • 40% are Catholic children of Catholic parents not born in Ireland and mostly black;
  • 10% are Irish Catholic children born of white Catholic Irish parents.

It should be noted that in the 2002 Census there were 3,472,606 Roman Catholics registered in Ireland. The 2006 Census returns show that there are now 3,671,446 Catholics living in Ireland – an increase of 218,840 Catholics in four years. The Catholic Polish, African, pupils from the Philippines and the Catholic people from other countries have added to the population of Catholic Primary Schools.

The Department of Education & Science is conducting an audit of inclusion in all schools. In CPSMA schools we are confident that our schools will emerge with a proud record of inclusion of Irish Children, children with special needs, Traveller children, and the ‘new Irish,’ whether born in Ireland of parents from Africa, Asia or Europe, or children who were born in other countries but are now being educated in Irish Catholic schools by dedicated Principals, Teachers, Special Needs Assistants and school staffs.

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)