First Day at School: Catholic Priests at the Ready

Ham sandwiches were securely lodged within lunchbox’s this morning as children rushed back to school following the summer break. For many children it was their first encounter with the education system. While the majority of Irish children will be returning/entering a State faith-based education system, a small minority (approx 14,000) will be entering a multi-denominational education system, namely Educate Together.

Multi-denominational education in Ireland has steadily grown over the past number of years, which highlights the growing need of parents to enrol their children within a progressive education system. Furthermore, as highlighted by Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, the first day of school is a child’s; “first interaction with the State so it is important that it is a positive experience for them”.

Currently Educate Together Schools account for approximately 2% of primary schools in Ireland. A wide array of faith groups are represented in Educate Together schools, with the schools open to all possible social, cultural or religious backgrounds. Varying world religions are taught, with additional after school classes available to cater for those who wish to prepare for the revelant sacrament. Within these schools, children address their teachers by their first name. This is a strong statement to the child as it enriches both communicative and diplomatic skills, but more importantly it creates an environment of mutual respect.

While I am not a father, a child’s enrolment within this education system would appear to me to be the best way possible for a parent to assist their child with invaluable life skills to openly decipher their existence.

This progressive free-thinking approach to education is in stark contrast to a bygone era of Roman Catholic primary school education which is thankfully slowly being diluted. In April, the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism was launched, which recommended that approx 50 Catholic primary schools transfer to non-denominational patronage. While this is a significant step regarding the modernisation of education within Ireland, it unfortunately falls significantly short of transferring all possible control from church to state. The Catholic Church being required to pay taxes including the controversial household charge would be a step in the correct direction.

The sheer volume of concerns regarding denominational faith-based schools is quite frankly beyond quantification. Issues can range from the official requirement of a baptismal certificate for enrolment, to teachers displaying religious symbols in order to impress the interviewer (who happens to belong to a religious order). Potential teachers are often required to falsely declare that their religious beliefs are in line with the given schools denomination, in order to attain employment.

While these are mere symptoms of a void between where the church resides on modernisation, and where the government needs to take control, the reality is many children will suffer exclusion today. Exclusion due to being enrolled within a denominational, faith-based education system that is well past it’s sell by date.