Another government, another disappointing day for education. Jan O’Sullivan has left her mark and I bet Ruairi Quinn is ruing the day he decided to address patronage in schools. Meanwhile Mary Hanafin is probably rubbing her hands in glee. It looks like despite all the flaws and all the secret deals with the Catholic Church that Fine Gael are taking up the baton from Fianna Fáil and Labour and getting behind the ETB model for primary education.
I’ve written extensively about the ETB model (Community National Schools) and why it fails to address basic rights for children so in this article I want to analyse what will be the case if the 90% of Catholic schools “divest” to the ETB. Will anything be different?
There will be one positive change if the ETB were in charge of schools, that is schools will not be allowed to discriminate on enrollment. While we don’t really need to divest to the ETB for this to happen, it would be a consequence and it would give the government permission to leave the law allowing discrimination in place (the oft-quoted Section 7.3c) so minority faith schools could continue their practices of discrimination (or protecting their ethos as they would call it).
The trouble begins, as it always has, when children get into these schools. What will be different to going to a Catholic school if you aren’t Catholic?
Firstly, let’s go for the low hanging fruit: faith formation. Currently in Catholic schools, if you aren’t Catholic, you either take part or get segregated. At best this only happens during religion classes but in practice it happens throughout the day. In ETB schools, there has been a deal done with the Catholic Church that Catholic faith formation will always happen no matter what. Other faith formation only happens given parental demand AND if a teacher can be found to provide the classes. I have yet to hear of these classes happening so I can only assume that they haven’t. If they were, it would be inconceivable that the ETB wouldn’t be shouting from the rooftops about it. The ETB claims this only happens for a portion of the year. Segregation shouldn’t happen at all. Ever. Doing it by religious background is no different to doing it by colour of skin. (As an aside, we also segregate children by gender in Ireland, but that’s another day’s battle.)
Let’s delve into the smaller stuff. The ETB prides itself on taking traditional values. (I have no idea why an organisation would boast about holding 19th/20th century values in the 21st century.) That means forcing children into uniforms and calling teachers Mr. And Mrs. and so on. There’s nothing different to the Catholic Church schools there. In fact, most Catholic schools are much more progressive and many of them utilise 21st century skills and ideas.
Ultimately, if you go to an ETB school instead of a Catholic one, there isn’t a lot of difference. If you are Catholic, you are guaranteed to be treated the same way as if you were in a Catholic school. If you’re not, you are pretty much treated the same as if you were in a Catholic school too except you are guaranteed to be supervised when the Catholic children get their faith formation classes.
There is very little in the difference between the ETB model and the Catholic Church model. Both segregate children by their faith background. No wonder the church want to do business. In fact they have even openly said that it’s a great model for rural areas because it would take the administrative burden off priests to run the school while still ensuring Catholic indoctrination. Sometimes I feel I live in an alternate universe governed by George Orwell’s creations.
Anyway, enough double-think from me today.