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Mid-West Humanists ask Minister for Education not to entrench religious control of National Schools

A delegation from the Mid-West Humanists met Jan O’Sullivan T.D. Minister for Education and Skills on 24 April 2015, about the Leases of National Schools.

Our National Schools – origins and rules

Now most people believe that our National Schools are tied to principles of various religions (mostly the Roman Catholic religion).

Well, the popular awareness of the origin of National Schools is correct, that the United Kingdom government set them up from 1830 onwards. The government wanted Trustees for each school to include people of a mixture of religions. No such mixed Trustees volunteered, and only sets of clergy of a single religion became Trustees. From the religion of the Trustees, National Schools got called Roman Catholic schools, Church of Ireland schools, etc.

Historians have described the one-religion nature of every set of Trustees as the churches subverting the UK government’s plan. However the plan was subverted only in that the Trustees do not include a mixture of religions.

The Lease of each school vested the running of the school in Trustees, who thereby promised to run the school by the Lease and by the rules from the Minister for Education. From the beginning to the end, the Leases did not mention a religion.

The Leases write “…the object of the system of National Education is to afford Combined literary and moral, and Separate Religious Instruction to children of all persuasions, as far as possible in the same school, upon the fundamental principle that no attempt shall be made to interfere with the peculiar religious tenets of any pupil.”

This may be a surprise to readers, as our National Schools are indeed controlled by clergy of religions – and to most people this includes the idea that those clergy as Trustees run the schools in the style of that particular religion, and that they are entitled to run them in a religious manner. This is actually contrary to the statement in the Lease that we just mentioned.

Deed of Variation (of a Lease)

In 1997 the Department of Education agreed with the Catholic Primary Schools Managers Association (CPSMA) and similar organisations, to change the Leases of National Schools. This change would make it legal to run a school according to a particular religion (mostly, Roman Catholic).

The legal document to change a Lease is called a Deed of Variation. In 1997 a model Deed of Variation was drafted.

The model Deed of Variation would replace much of each school’s lease. The new parts of the Roman Catholic model mention “Roman Catholic” over 20 times, write that the school has a Roman Catholic ethos, and say that this ethos means “inspired by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

The Mid West Humanists only became aware of the proposed Deed of Variation on 09 April 2015 – it has got very little publicity. Oddly the CPSMA Handbook 2012 printed the model Deed of Variation (page 61) without stating it has been applied to school leases (or not applied yet), and seems to say that the distinctly religious orientation in the Deed does apply to schools now.

Our information is that they have not been signed. The delay is due to legal problems. But the Department is committed to revising the Deed of Variation, to be make it legally secure, and then signing the Deeds. The Department want to make the ethos of denominational schools secure.

John Suttle of Irish National Schools Trust and of the Clontarf Report on education gave us the news about the Deeds of Variation, and about how the existing Leases of most National Schools are quite clearly neutral about religion.

We asked the Minister for information, and asked her not to entrench religious control in our National Schools

We asked the Minister about the present status of the Deeds of Variation for the Leases of National Schools.

We said that the Deeds of Variation should NOT be applied to leases of present National Schools, as they would get in the way of making the schools more secular.

As National Schools are not actually tied to religious principles now, making them secular would be easier than we and most people had thought.

What the Minister said

The Minister said that she would get full information, and reply to us.

You can read the full letter to the Minister here.

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