ETBI contradicts Department of Education about multi-denominational status of schools

The recently published Document from Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI’s Patrons’ Framework on ethos, states that ETB schools are multi-denominational. This includes the Non-Designated Community Colleges and Designated Community Colleges. Specifically, the Ethos Framework states that:

“ETB schools are state, co-educational, multi-denominational”

As always the ETBs are not clear or transparent about their schools, specially in relation to religion. This is despite the fact that they have a legal obligation under Section 6 (l) and (m) of the Education Act 1998 to enhance accountability in the education system and to enhance transparency in the making of decisions.

The registered status of ETB Colleges

Designated Community Colleges are registered with the Department of Education as interdenominational, not multi-denominational. Interdenominational schools are Christian schools.

In addition, in a letter to Atheist Ireland, the Department informed us that designated Community Colleges were interdenominational and that two of them were denominational.  So why does the document refer to designated Community Colleges as multi-denominational? The ETBs are telling parents that designated Community Colleges are multi-denominational when they are registered with the Department of Education as something else.

Designated Community colleges come under the Model Agreement. This is an agreement between the ETBs and another Patron body. That other Patron body is mainly religious and Catholic. In recent years the ETBs have set up schools with Model Agreements with Educate Together. As far as we are aware the two denominational designated Community Colleges have a catholic ethos written into their Model Agreement.

In February 2020 this is what the Department of Education told us of the status of designated Community Colleges

You can read the letter they sent us here. Ruth Coppinger had asked a Dail question on the status of various ETBs and got an official Dail response. The Department of Education then corrected that Dail response. According to the letters from the Department, the Dail response was a clerical error and the letters corrected the status of the various ETBs schools and colleges. Now the ETBs are again telling us that the designated Community Colleges are multi-denominational.

It seems that the ever changing status of the ETBs is ongoing.

The role of Catholic Chaplains

Another interesting issue about designated Community Colleges is that, as part of The Model Agreement with religious bodies, the state funds a Chaplain in the college. According to the Model Agreement the Chaplain must be approved by the relevant religious authority. Given the make up of designated Community Colleges, the relevant religious authority is the Catholic Church as most designated Community Colleges have an agreement with the Catholic Church.

The new ETB Framework document states that:- schools underpinned by the core values of:

  • Excellence in Education
  • Care
  • Equality
  • Community and
  • Respect.

In Designated Community Colleges, Catholic chaplains are paid to help catholic parents with the religious education and faith formation of their children. There was a case in the Supreme Court about Chaplains in schools, and the Supreme Court found that their very purpose was to assist Catholic parents with the religious education and faith formation of their children. The case was in relation to Community and Comprehensive schools, these schools have been left out of the Framework on ethos. The wording in the Deeds of Trust for Community and Comprehensive schools in relation to Chaplains, religious instruction and worship is exactly the same as in the Model Agreement for designated Community Colleges. You can find that Supreme Court case here

The Contract for Catholic Chaplains states that:

Faith teaching and practice are intrinsic to school chaplaincy. Accordingly, the Chaplain is a person of faith, a Priest, Religious or a lay person of the relevant faith, committed to the teaching and values of Christ, acting on behalf of the Church and the school community while upholding the teaching and moral standards and practices of the Competent Religious Authority, together with the characteristic spirit and founding intention of the schoolThe Supreme Court also found that it was constitutionally impermissible for a chaplain to instruct a child in a religion other than it’s own without the consent of their parents.

In addition the Supreme Court recognised that if minorities choose to send their children to these schools, they can expect their children to be influenced by the religious ethos in the general atmosphere of the school. This is not respect or equality and especially when these schools are being promoted as the alternative to denominational schools.


How can the ETBs claim that these colleges are multi denominational, and one of their core values is equality, when they only hire Catholic Chaplains? The relevant religious authority is the Catholic Church. For the ETBs, the category of multi-denominational means that they can continue to discriminate against other religions and beliefs. Of course the document that the ETBs published is not transparent about this issue. It is what we have come to expect from ETBs.



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