The departure was signalled by the general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), Fr Tom Deenihan, at its AGM, when he also said it was “simply false” to assert that a pupil must be baptised to gain entry to a Catholic-run school.
The cleric also criticised politicians who “make broad statements” about schools under Catholic patronage without acknowledging the service those schools provide in their communities, and said school boards should invite local politians to witness at first hand the work being done: “It is easy to criticise a notional national concept, it is harder to reject local evidence.”
Fr Deenihan was addressing about 200 delegates at the CPSMA’s AGM in Dublin. He said there are between 11 and 17 schools in Dublin which are over-subscribed, with more families wishing to enrol their children than there are places available.
“That, in itself, is indicative of something. There is, though, an opportunity here for such schools to cater for the children in their area before catering for those outside the catchment area, regardless of religious affiliation. That is a conversation that will have to take place in the near future and it may be an area where some gesture could be be made.”
He said “inclusion” in schools should not just mean religion, but also nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and ability.
“When these five criteria are taken into consideration, I would challenge anyone to tell me that Catholic primary schools are not as inclusive as any other type of school.”
The outgoing minister for education, Jan O’Sullivan, recently abolished Rule 68 and its provision for religious education to take precedence over other subjects in primary schools, but Fr Deenihan said “nothing changes with the abolition of Rule 68” with the Church’s catechetical programme, Grow in Love, continuing to be taught for two and a half hours per week.
“For Catholic schools, religious education is an important manifestation of the schools Catholic ethos. That ethos is decided and defined by the patron, whoever the patron may be, not the minister.”
In relation to the appointment of teachers and principals, he said teachers in Catholic schools must collaborate with the parish and selection boards must seek “a personal commitment, a kindliness and a personal manner that can bear witness to Christ” to those in their care and the selection board “should always ask for the religious education diploma from a recognised college”.
Fr Deenihan said there are 23,000 volunteers across the country serving on Catholic schools’ boards of management: “We are becoming tired of being the object of criticism for our politicians who target such schools so regularly that one could be forgiven for thinking that there was no other issue in Irish society, be it economical, health, justice or welfare. Indeed, despite that narrative over the past few years, it was remarkable how little it featured in political manifestos, leader debates and, anecdotally, on the doorsteps with canvasser’s during the general election campaign.”