The HAI has written to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, expressing its deep concern over the painfully slow pace of the School Reconfiguration for Diversity Process and demanding that the government and the Minister set out its plans for achieving their target of delivering 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030.
In the letter, the HAI pointed out that the Programme for Government includes the objective of expanding the plurality of schools to reflect the diversity of Irish society. The Programme states that “students of all religions and none should have access to education, regardless of their belief system”. However, many families cannot avail of their rights to have their child educated in a non-religious school. There is a large demand for such schools, with multi-denominational schools being oversubscribed at a significantly greater level (26%) than Catholic schools (6%). Education in Ireland remains dominated by religion, and aside from Catholics in Ireland, most people do not have a choice on which school to send their children to. This is most acutely felt outside of Dublin and particularly in rural areas.
Currently, multidenominational schools account for only about 5% of all primary schools in Ireland, which means that there is a significant mountain to climb to increase this to 13% to reach the low target of 400 such schools.
The HAI reminded the Minister of the repeated call by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to end religious discriminations in Irish schools. The UN Committee specifically urged Ireland to guarantee the right of all children to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief by doing the following:
(a) amending the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 and the Equal Status Acts to remove any exceptions to ensuring a child’s right to education in all primary and secondary schools based on religious or “ethos” grounds and to establish statutory guidelines to ensure children’s right not to attend religious classes;
(b) developing a time-bound strategy, with adequate resources, for meeting its targets for increasing the availability of multi-denominational schools by 2030, and setting a target with a time-bound strategy and adequate resources for increasing the availability of non-denominational schools.
The HAI understands that the government currently has no plans to open any non-denominational schools, and we have asked the Minister to update us on how they intend to deliver on the recommendations of the UN.
The HAI has also requested a copy of the government’s specific plans on how the target of 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030 will be achieved, and on how they intend to meet the growing demand for multi-denominational and non-denominational schools.