Four things you need to know about the Baptism Barrier

Should you have to baptise your child just so they can attend your local primary school? With more and more marriages taking place outside of churches, why is it so many parents still baptise their children, without the intention to raise them as devout Catholics? This could be largely due to the Baptism Barrier, an admissions process in our state-funded schools where schools can turn away children based on their religious beliefs.

Following a seminar hosted by children and family rights organisation Equate last week, a new school admissions bill is being debated in the Dail. Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton is bringing to the Dail a ‘clear timetable for legislation’ on the baptism barrier in schools. “It is unfair that preference in publicly funded religious schools is given to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or no religion who live closer to the school.”

With that in mind, here are four things you need to know about the Baptism Barrier.

Legality of admissions process

As it stands, schools are legally permitted under Section 7.3c of the Equal Status Act 2000, to accept children based on their religious beliefs or ethos.

Bruton’s four approaches

Minister Bruton has brought forward four possible approaches for dealing with the barrier at primary school level. They are:

  1. The ‘catchment area’ approach, which prohibits schools from giving preference to children of their own religion who live outside the catchment area over children of no religion or a different religion who live within the catchment area.
  2. The ‘nearest school rule’ approach, allowing religious schools to give preference only where it is that child’s nearest school of that religion.
  3. A quota system, whereby a school would be able to set aside a certain number of places for children of its own religion.
  4. A ban on religious schools using religion as a factor in admissions.
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Equate findings

In a recent study, Equate found that 24 per cent of parents would not have had their children baptised if they didn’t need it to gain entry into their local primary school. Equate Executive Director Michael Barron told the Pat Kenny show that it’s “an astonishing figure. One that doesn’t serve the churches any good, doesn’t serve families any good.”

Catholic Schools Partnership

The Catholic Schools Partnership welcomed the minister’s consultation period saying that education policy has to be carefully thought through. It claimed that most of its schools don’t select students based on religion, that this is only 4 to 5 per cent of schools in the major Dublin area where the population is higher than in other areas of the country.

These factors and legislation are currently being debated in the Dail. If it proceeds, it will be the first such move made by any government and Minister Bruton is inviting submissions following the announcement of this plan.

With September drawing nearer (wait, it’s not still January, is it?) our children will be starting to gear up for school, so this is of big interest to anyone who had their children signed up since birth, or is anxiously on a waiting list, hoping a place will crop up. What do you think? Do you want your child baptised in order to raise them in the Catholic faith (and get them into their local national school)? Or would you rather they had an education free from religious ethos? Or do you not care either way, and if getting them baptised means they get into their local school, then so be it? Let us know with your comments below!

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