Ireland sets example to UK Governments with plans to end religious selection by Catholic schools

30 June, 2017

Irish Education Minister Richard Bruton

The Irish Education Minister Richard Bruton has announced plans to remove the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ in Ireland, which currently allows Catholic schools to religiously discriminate in their admission policies and prioritise children from Catholic families. Humanists UK, which campaigns against religious selection by all state-funded schools, has welcomed the news and called on the UK Government and devolved governments to take note.

Setting out the new plans this week, Bruton explained that parents in Ireland were being forced to baptise their children just to secure a local school place, owing to the fact that Catholic schools make up 90% of all schools in Ireland. Bruton also suggested that minority religious schools – such as Church of Ireland schools – may be exempt from the ban so as to protect the ethos of their schools in what remains a country predominantly populated by Catholics.

It is understood that the plans are still in an early stage, and would require a change to the Equal Status Act if they are given the go ahead.

In England, Humanists UK are currently opposing the UK Government’s plans to remove the so-called 50% cap on religious selection in English schools, which since 2007 has required new academies and free schools to leave at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief. Evidence published since the move was proposed last year has been clear in demonstrating that removing the 50% cap would increase both religious and socio-economic segregation in the education system, as well as limit the fair access of local parents to their schools.

The plans are also unpopular. A recent poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition has found that the Government’s plans are opposed by 80% of the population, including 79% of Anglicans and 67% of Catholics.

Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘It is encouraging to see the Irish government taking positive steps towards ending the religious discrimination practiced by Catholic schools in Ireland. We hope that the plans are implemented without delay.

‘Unfortunately, before the election, the Government in Westminster was going in the opposite direction, granting English religious schools even greater freedom to discriminate, largely at the behest of the Catholic Education Service. This is clearly the wrong approach so we hope that the UK Government will take notice of what is happening in Ireland and drop its divisive and unpopular plans to remove the 50% cap. We hope the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments also take note.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK on 0207 324 3078 or

Read the announcement:

Read a briefing setting out the evidence on plans to remove the 50% cap on religious selection in English schools:‘faith’-schools-and-religious-selection.pdf  

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