Changes in store for Educate Together school

This has been a year of social change and progress for Ireland thus far, with marriage equality and abortion rights being debated on a wide scale. Perhaps 2015 will ultimately be seen as the year that Ireland began to strongly move away from its religious roots and towards a more secular position in the world.

First Choice for paper

But what about our schooling system?
With our population becoming much more varied in religion and ethnicity, alternatives to traditional Catholic schools have grown in popularity, and religious education is no longer the only option for school-seeking parents. However, the Catholic church still runs over 90% of schools in Ireland. Moving away from religious teachings has not been as swift as some parents may like.

In the last ten years, the Educate Together network of non-denominational schools in Ireland has doubled its numbers, with 77 primary schools and four secondary schools currently being run under its ethos. In Dublin 8 there are two: Griffith Barracks Multi-Denominational School and Canal Way Educate Together. There are 13 other primary schools in Dublin 8 that are all religiously affiliated (11 Catholic, 2 Church of Ireland).

From the Islamic Foundation of Ireland to the Irish Jewish Museum nearby, the Liberties and Dublin 8 more broadly have grown to be a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. In an area which has such a diverse community, it’s no surprise that Educate Together schools are in such high demand.
The principal at Canal Way Educate Together, Dermot Stanley, says the school has been a huge success since it opened in 2009 and that the demand for places has been enormous, with hundreds of children now pre-enrolled in the school up until 2018. “The school really reflects the area’s diversity,” Stanley says. “We have such a blend of cultures and socio-economic backgrounds and it’s important to reflect that in our school. I really think a school should be a micro-world of its wider community and I think our school really achieves that.”

With demand so high, parents want to know about enrolment policies. The Educate Together schools do not, of course, require a child’s baptismal certificate. According to its website, Griffith Barracks Multi-Denominational firstly enrol pupils who have a sibling in the school, followed by pupils who are the children of a member of staff. After these criteria are met, the places are allocated randomly, meaning that neither children’s religion nor their address will affect chances of enrollment. Canal Way Educate Together, in accordance with the Educate Together network as a whole, enrol on a first come-first served basis.

This is in contrast to the Catholic and Church of Ireland schools in the area, which have the religion of the child as a criterion for acceptance, with some giving first preference to Catholic children when enrolling. At least one school asks for the religion of each parent to be supplied on the application form.
In areas where no Educate Together option is available, the network also supports Start Up Groups, with local parents who lobby for one to be built in the area: that was how Canal Way Educate Together got started.

It seems that freedom of choice is the most important factor for parents in choosing an alternative school, as a 2012 report showed that most multi-denominational schools are 50% Catholic. Mothers in multi-denominational schools are also as likely to describe themselves as very religious or spiritual as mothers in Catholic schools. This is something that Dermot Stanley says is important to talk about when it comes to Educate Together. “I think that some people see Educate Together as being ‘anti-Catholic’ but that’s not what the schools are about at all,” Stanley says. “I think many people would be surprised at the amount of Catholic children there are in our school. It’s much more a matter of freedom of choice for the parents.”
Although having two Educate Together schools in area would be an advantage over some others, in an area with such a large population, two are not enough. “The opportunities for building new schools so close to the city centre just don’t come up as much as they do further outside the city,” Stanley says.
“It’s trickier in Dublin 8 to try and build new schools even though the demand is there. I really think there’s a shortage of Educate Together schools in the area and not enough choice for the parents living here. But since the building opportunities are so slim, there’s not much we can do.”

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