Breda O’Brien’s (pictured) Irish Times column on Saturday contained a useful analysis on the current state of the debate about school patronage.
Among other things, it helps to clarify a number of misconceptions that have not helped the discussion to date.
For example, she points out that there “has been a simplistic analysis of secular education as automatically more plural, diverse and egalitarian, with denominational education automatically assumed therefore to be the opposite”.
“However, people familiar with Irish primary education know that on all sorts of criteria, from integration of minorities from abroad to catering for very disadvantaged groups like Travellers, denominational education scores very highly on inclusivity” she writes.
She continues: “Catholic education is not sectarian, and it would be a shame if increased diversity of school patronage led to more social stratification, not less.”
The piece also aims at clearing up some terminological confusion surrounding the terms denominational, inter-denominational, multi-denominational and non-denominational education.
She writes: “From the department’s report, it appears that they recognise three basic categories. There are denominational schools, run by one particular faith community. There are inter-denominational schools, run by two or more faith communities, generally two or more Christian churches.”
She points out, however that the Department “appear to think that all the rest are multi-denominational.
She continuesL “However, internationally, multi-denominational is generally taken to mean that denominations are respected to the extent that religious education is provided for each of the major faith communities (within reason) within the school day.
“So in Ireland, at primary level, the two new VEC primary schools are multi- denominational. (Of course, constitutionally, non-believing parents may remove their children from any faith instruction.)
“There is an obvious demand for Educate Together schools, and they provide a valuable service. However, Educate Together also refers to itself as multi-denominational, but do something quite different to the VEC schools. Educate Together provide education about religion, as a cultural phenomenon deserving of respect, but all education aimed at belief must happen outside of school.”
In other words, Educate Together should be more accurately described as non-denominational.