Reform of Religious Education in Primary Schools
The advisory group of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, FPP, issued an interim report today and held it’s last public session in order to share their reflections on the issue with the key stakeholders, other interested parties, and the general public.
On the whole, listening to the responses from the stakeholders and other interested parties, the response seems to be positive, although nearly every group had some issues of concern.
The advisory group is made up of Professer John Coolahan, Fionnuala Kilfeather and Dr. Caroline Hussey.
The thirteen main stakeholders, besides the Department of Education and Skills, involved in the Working Session of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector are as follows:
Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools
Catholic Primary Schools Management Association
Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaelige Teoranta
Irish National Teachers' Organisation
Irish Primary Principals' Network
Irish Vocational Education Association
National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education
National Parents Council – Primary
The Board of Education of the Church of Ireland
The Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal Conference
The Islamic Foundation of Ireland
The other interested parties included the Humanist Association of Ireland, Atheist Ireland and some community groups who are working on establishing new schools.
There have been a few reports from the media;
Patronage forum presents findings - The Irish Times - Thu, Nov 17, 2011
Call for abolition of school religion rule - RT NewsThe feasibility of transferring over 250 Catholic primary schools to new patrons is to be examined as part of the new drive to boost diversity in schools.
The Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in primary schools is also recommending that a special questionnaire should be used to canvass the views of parents in these areas; this will be prepared by the Department in consultation with the main education partners.
The group - in its interim report - stresses the value of a ‘rolling plan’ of incremental change. It concludes that a “Big Bang”, or a radical upheaval is not the best option.
The group - established by Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn - says the first phase in divesting schools should involve 258 schools in 18 dioceses across 47 areas. These are areas, identified by the Department of Education at the request of the bishops where “there is a need for divesting to allow for diversity of schools".
Prof Coolahan said modifications are being suggested which should help schools to cater for pupils of all belief systems other than that of the majority of pupils. Changes to the "Rules for National Schools" and curricular guidelines are being proposed.
http://www.education.ie/home/home.jsp?m ... &doc=55605The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism has recommended that a controversial rule governing Primary School education in Ireland be abolished.
The forum has been presenting its interim findings today and will send a final report to the Minister for Education by the end of the year.
Rule 68 states that "of all the parts of a school curriculum, Religious Instruction is by far the most important".
It goes on to describe Religious Instruction as a fundamental part of the school course that "should inform and vivify the whole work of the school".
It also states that the primary duty of an educator includes habituating a pupil to observe God's laws.
The General Secretary of the Department of Education, Brigid McManus, told the forum that her department would support the removal of this rule.
Professor Coolahan recounted that while interviewing 86 children from non-Catholic backgrounds about their experiences in Catholic ethos schools he had come across some cases were the children had been “almost depressed and suicidal because of their experience.”As many schools, particularly in rural Ireland, are "stand alone" schools, with no other choice of school nearby, particular attention is being paid to how they can be more inclusive and respect the Constitutional rights of all pupils. Modifications are being suggested which should help schools to cater for pupils of all belief systems other than that of the majority of pupils. Changes to the "Rules for National Schools" and curricular guidelines are being proposed.
Professor Coolahan continued: "Many of the issues involved are interconnected, and, while complex, good will, quality information, a sense of trust and a concern for the common good of a changing Irish society will go a long way to achieving greater school diversity, which all parties have agreed is necessary.
"I hope that this report will provide worthwhile advice and guidance towards practical solutions on diversity in the context of patronage in the primary school sector," concluded Professor Coolahan.
He said that other children had reported having a sense of exclusion and that this had effected them.
Several of the parties responding to the advisory group said that they still had human rights concerns after listening to the interim report and that these would have to be addressed. These included, one group claimed, the right not to be forced to make your religious beliefs known in public and they claimed that non-Catholic children in Rc ethos schools were forced to do that.
Several Catholic commentators, including David Quinn, have indicated some unhappiness with the direction the group is heading in claiming that it seems as if they want to impose an ‘Educate Together’ model on all schools. Quinn questioned whether or not this would injure the separation of church and state.
They seem to be moving towards a model where all religious ethos schools will have to confine religious education to certain times of the day and will have to have proper accommodation for students who opt out of religious education. However, they seemed to indicate that comparative religious studies should form a part of everyone’s education and that students should learn about the other religions and beliefs. They also recommended that emblems of all belief systems of the children in the school should be displayed.
In my own view, it does seem that the report is going to recommend dropping Rule 68 and that the Department of Education is happy with that. This is significant. As too is the recommendation that teacher training be reformed and that non-religiously controlled teacher colleges be established (I though that there already was one) and that compulsory Ethics, Morals & Religious education programmes be put in place in teacher education colleges, which would include ethics etc. other than those of the core ethos of the college. The recommendations on pluralism are welcome as is the need to properly accommodate children who do not wish to receive religious education.
The group seems to be moving in the right direction, even if they will not go as far as I would like. The forces of reaction are likely to kick in, but we have the right Minister for Education in place this time around (his odd ‘aggressive atheist’ comments of the other night aside).