Applicants to Church-owned schools tend to be Catholic, report finds

Applicants to Church-owned schools tend to be Catholic, report finds

If ever there was a baffling headline in Ireland’s self-proclaimed ‘newspaper of reference’, it was last week’s ‘Primary teachers disproportionately white, Irish and Catholic’, with its equally perplexing sub-head ‘NUI Galway finds Irish-nationality teachers “significantly overrepresented”’.

For those inclined to skimming headlines and moving on, confusion about the Irish Times article will mainly have been limited to wondering what’s newsworthy about a country overwhelmingly inhabited by white, Irish and Catholic people tending to have white, Irish and Catholic teachers.

Those who stayed with the piece will have learned, however, that while 78% of the population in general identifies as Catholic, 90% of Ireland’s trainee primary school teachers identify so, and that while 82.6% of the population tick the ‘white Irish’ box on census forms, fully 99% of our would-be teachers do so, while 100% of trainees point to English or Irish as their first language.

Such is the fruit of research by Dr Manuela Heinz and Dr Elaine Keane from NUI Galway’s school of education on ‘Socio-demographic composition of primary initial education entrants in Ireland’.

In terms of its religious content, at any rate, the research doesn’t really seem to be saying anything especially new.

In January, for instance, the Irish Independent reported that the same two authors had published research in the European Journal of Teacher Education that said 90% of surveyed respondents entering primary teacher education programmes identified as Catholic (albeit with roughly a third of those rarely if ever practising their religion).

With the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools being owned by Catholic parishes and so under the patronage of Catholic bishops, Dr Heinz told the Irish Times that the Catholic identity of these schools may be deterring prospective teachers who do not share their religious beliefs and values. The researchers have said they hope their work will trigger more thought about teacher demand and supply, and the characteristics and qualities Ireland wants in teachers.

The problem here is that the State does not support schools so as to give jobs to people who would like to be teachers. Rather, it supports them because it has a constitutional duty to provide for the education of children, and recognises that families are the primary educators of children, entitled to provide their children’s education – including their religious education – through private schools and other schools recognised by the State.

In other words, teacher recruitment policy should surely be built rather more around the needs of families and schools than around the wishes of would-be teachers. Whatever one thinks of this discussion, the needs of children should be not be put second to the ambitions of adults.