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Denominational schools struggle with admissions*

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The question of who gets first preference for admittance to denominational schools when there is a high demand for places was raised at the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute’s (CREDI) CREDItable Conversations Educational Symposium 2019 held at the Seminary St John Vianney and Uganda Martyrs, Mt St Benedict on February 16th. The theme was The Law in Education.

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo highlighted the issue during the Question and Answer period after Justice Andrea Smart presented on ‘Parental Responsibility in Law’ and Fr Mathew Ragbir on ‘Parental Responsibility for Children’s Education–Moral Dimensions’.

Providing a context, Mangoo said parents have a right to select a school based on their religious values and at some schools there is a “demand problem”. She noted, “It is illegal to refuse entry to a child based on religion”. Mangroo said a parent can be a devout member of the religion which owns and established the school to form students according to the tenets of the faith.

“The parent desires to have that child educated into the tenets of that faith. However, 300 children apply to get into the school, [so] the principal has to make a decision about which children are selected, and which children are not selected. Are the children who are not selected considered refused?”

She referred to the education ministry’s attempt last year to introduce a standardised registration form at primary schools which did not have “religion” listed. Education Minister Anthony Garcia   intervened and directed that Circular Memorandum 1 of 2018 dated January 10 with instructions that the application for admission to public primary schools be withdrawn until further notice. The Ministry and association representing denominational boards of education later came to an agreement on a standardised form last March.

A member of the audience asked if the first set of parents applying to a school would have to be accepted. Mangroo responded this approach did not work because parents began lining up from the night before.

Adding to the discourse, Archbishop Gordon said, “The children of the religion should have a first priority in access to the schools and if there are other places, then other children can be allowed in. If that is not the spirit of the Concordat, help me!” His remark was applauded.

Another question for the presenters was on the prevalence of testing primary school children before being accepted into schools. The speaker said this was “preventing parents from discharging their duties under Section 4 of the Constitution”.  Mangroo offered a response: “The Ministry of Education does not support that and principals are told in no uncertain terms they are not to have tests to determine if to admit a child. There are some criteria for admitting children. That being said, it does not mean some principals don’t do that.” She said “close supervision” and “monitoring” were required.