Plans to reform the school admissions system in relation to the role that religion can play in that process have been outlined by Education Minister Richard Bruton.
In a speech at a seminar organised by Equate, a campaign group in this area, Minister Bruton stated that he believes that it is unfair that preference is given by publicly-funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school.
The Minister also stated his belief that it is unfair that parents, who might otherwise not do so, feel pressure to baptise their children in order to gain admission to the local school.
Minister Bruton set out four possible approaches for dealing with the issue, in primary schools in the first instance, including:
A catchment area approach, prohibiting religious schools from giving preference to children of their own religion who live outside the catchment area ahead of non-religious children who live inside the catchment
A ‘nearest school rule’, allowing religious schools to give preference to a religious child only where it is that child’s nearest school of that particular religion
A quota system, which would allow a religious school give preference to children of its own religion in respect of only a certain proportion of places, meaning that the remaining places would be allocated based on other admissions criteria – proximity to the school, lottery etc.
An outright prohibition on religious schools using religion as a factor in admissions, meaning that all places would be allocated based on other factors. Within this approach, there is capacity to allow religious schools to require parents or students to indicate some support or respect for the ethos of the school.