Joe Humphreys, The Irish Times Education Correspondent has been highlighting the issues around the National School issue and perhaps his experience in South Africa might explain why he is able to grasp this concept of National School Education.
In South Africa we understand racialism as it was legalised in the form of Apartheid.
The idea was that each ethnic group would have their own state/ Buntustan and that the white minority would still hold onto power in the country. The Indian and Coloured community obviously did not have a homeland to go to like the Pondos, Zulus or Xhosa. When this system came under threat the first idea the white minority had to stay in power was to create tricameral parliament to address this, for Indians and Coloureds. What is the relevance of apartheid (pronounced appropriately Aparthate,) for us in Ireland?
Here we have state funded denominational education. People genuinely believe this is their birthright. However, if one wishes to have denominational education you are free to do so, but must fund it out of your own resources. The recent attempts to use multidenominational schools as a means to create choice are in fact doing more to entrench sectarianism and segregation.
Generally the only time people are concerned about the education of their children is when they are seeking a place for their child at primary or secondary level.
Most people believe that the various denominations have a right to give preference to people from their own faith and you are lucky to get in on sufferance or subterfuge. Under the guise of protecting ethos we have the same self interest as apartheid represents which is protecting racism and exclusion.
In city areas there is a great demand for places and so some parents will have a child baptised to gain entry into a school, or assume that rules which are defined to protect an ethos are justifiable, whereas they are in fact sectarian, illegal and opposed to our constitution. In country areas where places are not contested so strongly there is more flexibility and so people enable discrimination.
In fact in Ireland the legislation supports a non denominational National School System, but for nearly 200 years practice has been in conflict with law.
So currently using the South African analogy we are supposed to have a non denominational National School system funded by the state, but what we have is the opposite. We have a denominational system which is quite legal but it should not receive state funding being denominational. However, a national school must be open to anyone in its catchment area and not attempt to proselytise non members of that faith in that school. A School under any faith has the right to present its teachings to that faith group, but must allow those of other faiths and none to withdraw. Also the practice of infusing the whole curriculum with the beliefs of a particular religion is unconstitutional and suggests a breach of the rights of the child to receive the secular subjects without ideological transformation. With the advent of multidenominational schools we equally have a system which is at least fairer than denominational Education but it too is illegal in though it shares information about different beliefs it does not allow for the removal of those who wish to be integrated with the other pupils but do not wish to be proselytised.
So in conclusion what we have is not the need to repeal sectarian or race laws like in South Africa and the USA, but having our state abide by the law and have our courts act to stop this educational violation of human rights.
“Joe Humphreys is Education Correspondent with The Irish Times, and author of the weekly ‘Unthinkable’ philosophy column. He previously worked as a correspondent in South Africa.”
In his recent article he thinks we should look to Finland to help us here:
“Such a place exists. It’s called Finland.”
“Imagine a place where there were no private schools, no waiting lists, no demands for baptism certs; a place where all children – irrespective of faith or ethnicity – went to their local school.”
However, we do not need to look to Finland but to Glasnevin where the first training college was established for that type of training. It resulted from the Stanley Letter establishing the National School system in 1831. The 1838 Club is a reference to this educational institute.
It was close to the car park, to the East of Albert College Park. So we have the system and it is enshrined in law but our practice is illegal.
John Suttle has been trying to address this issue arising from his personal experience in Clontarf, and you can read his full report above. He has some interesting responses to Joe’s article. Joe could be the Education correspondent to finally bring relief to parents who are suffering the effects of this horrific abuse of human rights and educational access.
But such a place once existed here too. In the 19th century and early 20th century, Ireland had a system of national schools which were explicitly non-denominational. The display of religious emblems in school hours was prohibited and children had a right to opt out of religious ceremonies. Poverty was a barrier but, in theory, national schools educated all children together.
However, Joe though introducing the missing dimension of National Schools, rather than Denominational schools, Faith School or generally the name used by the Department of Education, Primary School manages to further confuse. The assumption is that when the Brits were here we were model citizens in regard to Education. The idea is that when the Brits moved on, the Roman Legion took over. He manages to give a completely false impression that something changed with independence. It did not.
John Suttle further clarifies,
From soon after the system was begun with Stanley right up to the present day, the churches opposed it. They wanted and still want state funded denominational schools. This was never conceded by the State (before or after independence).
By the time of the Powis commission report in 1870, the people of the country had divided themselves in the National Schools. Catholics refused to go to schools where Protestant teachers were teaching, and Protestants equally walked past their local National school to go to a school with Protestant teachers (there were always numbers of children who did not do this, but the large majority did). The Powis report recommended that the State should recognise the overwhelming public support for State supported denominational schools and should abandon the National School model for a denominational model. Surprisingly, the State eventually refused and continued with the legal position of the National School system (the state would only support schools (i) open bona fide to children of all denominations and (ii) where any child attending could withdraw from whatever religious instruction was being offered. This system remains in place today.
Clause 16 of the Anglo Irish Treaty (the only social clause in the “Collins” treaty) ensures the continuation of the National School system
16. Neither the Parliament of the Irish Free State nor the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall make any law so as either directly or indirectly to endow any religion or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof or give any preference or impose any disability on account of religious belief or religious status or affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending the religious instruction at the school or make any discrimination as respects State aid between schools under the management of different religious denominations or divert from any religious denomination or any educational institution any of its property except for public utility purposes and on payment of compensation.
This commitment was copied almost directly into Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution:
4° Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
This remains unchanged today
The legal provisions remain in place unchanged by the 1998 Education Act, the Equal Status Act 2000 or the Deeds of Variation.
In the 1950s there was another report (I have never actually seen this – only seen references to it) which came to the same conclusion as the Powis Commission – that the National School system was “de facto” denominational (as against “de jure”), with 95% of children attending National Schools which only had children of denomination attending (note there were significant numbers attending schools with multiple denominations). If such a report had been made immediately prior to the 1998 Education Act, the report may well have found that 95% of children were now attending schools with multiple denominations – i.e. “de facto” multi-denominational.
Again, there was no legislation. The new Rules for National Schools in the 1960s recognised that there is a denominational aspect to the ethos of National Schools. The Rules and any legislation cannot change the Constitution in any case.
The religious ethos of all National Schools consists of three sections (i) children of all denominations have an equal right of admission, (ii) religious instruction in one denomination, multiple denominations, or non-denominational may be offered in the school as a separate subject, and (iii) all children have right not to attend religious instruction.
Joe Humpreys paragraph might have read, “The National School system is supported by Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, which dictates that children of all denominations should have an equal right of entry to all schools (regardless of patronage) receiving State support. It is difficult to match the present “Catholics First” and “Protestants First” admissions polices with concept of National Schools.”
So it is a National School, say after me! As the Louise O’Keefe case showed, the issue is not who manages the school or who is the patron, but rather the State is the final authority in Educational matters.