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Irish teachers fear RE changes

22 April 2016


Church blessing: the Diocesan Service for Primary Schools, marking the start of the school year in Cork, Cloyne & Ross, in October, 2014

Church blessing: the Diocesan Service for Primary Schools, marking the start of the school year in Cork, Cloyne & Ross, in October, 2014

PRIMARY-SCHOOL teachers in Ireland are becoming increasingly concerned at plans to remodel the religious-education curriculum in state schools, which, they say, will dilute the ethos of faith-based schools and cause problems in delivering the preferred denominational curriculum already in place.

The Church of Ireland, under whose patronage almost all Protestant primary schools are grouped, is especially worried at the planned classes envisaged by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which is the state’s advisory board on education.

The NCCA has been inundated with responses from parents, schools, and individual teachers over its plans to overhaul the current system of teaching religion — not least by the vociferous but small minority group Atheist Ireland.

Opponents say that the new curriculum, aimed at focusing on all religious systems and traditions, including secular beliefs, will push out the denominational education standard — as in the Church of Ireland’s “Follow Me” structure, based on Anglican worship and ethos — owing to a lack of extra time in the school timetable.

The NCCA denies that there is any intention to dilute faith schools or their ethos, but an NCCA director in charge of primary education, Patrick Sullivan, said: “One thing which has come out of the consultation is a view that what’s needed is something that is compatible with the Irish education system, and which will result in meaningful change in the classroom.”

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) broadly welcomes change, but is concerned at what it describes as an “overloaded curriculum” and a perceived tension between the existing system and the new proposal.

In the INTO submission on the changes, the union is adamant that there is no space to run both religious forms of instruction in the school day: “There is no room in the current curriculum for additional content or subjects. It is only by reducing the content of the current primary-school curriculum that time will be available for the inclusion of education about religions and beliefs,” the INTO believes.

Consideration of status and time currently afforded to patrons’ requirements, INTO says, should be taken into account in the review.

Six senior academics within the teacher-training bodies in the country have come out strongly against the NCCA proposals, which, they say, would damage faith schools’ capacity for instruction and ethos.

For its part, Atheist Ireland wants to highlight the parents’ option to allow exclusion of their child from the new course as a guaranteed right.

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