REFORMS proposed for the Irish primary-school curriculum include an option to spend more time — or less — on teaching religion. The idea, which will be brought forward for consultation in the spring with the schools, almost all of which are under Roman Catholic or Anglican patronage, has been welcomed by the main teachers’ union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
It is hoped that the ensuing debate will help to clarify the status of religion in Irish schools, which has been a contentious issue for both the RC and Church of Ireland managed schools, each of which are suspicious of any move by the government to secularise schools, as they see it, and thus undermine their ethos.
Lobby groups, including Atheist Ireland, have increasingly demanded the removal of religion from the curriculum in schools funded by the State, while the Churches defend their present position.
Teachers in the primary sector have warned that those delivering the curriculum are under increasing workload stress.
Under the present system, last overhauled in 1998, schools have the right to plan subjects, particularly religion, for a period each day, to protect their ethos, while the remainder is used for core subjects such as English, Irish, and mathematics.
Primary schools in Ireland typically spend up to two-and-a-half hours each week teaching religion.
The amount of time allocated to religion is not presently defined. Under the new proposals, schools would have 40 per cent of the teaching hours each week defined as “flexible time” for subjects outside the core curriculum, to be used for other purposes, including religion. They could also include more time for literacy, numeracy, or computer coding.
The government-sponsored National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which has formulated the new proposals, says that they are intended to open up a discussion on the redevelopment of the present curriculum.
After the consultation with all parties over the next few months, the issue will be brought before a conference in March. The proposals that emerge from this will be central to a redevelopment of the system over the next few years.