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Church of Ireland General Synod: teaching inherent to the ‘personality of the Church’

19 May 2023

Church of Ireland

The Revd Catherine Simpson seconds the Board of Education report

The Revd Catherine Simpson seconds the Board of Education report

Education

TEACHING and education were inherent to the “personality of the Church”, Canon Jennifer McWhirter (Clogher) said in her introduction to the report from the Education Board.

The cost-of-living crisis had dominated the lives of people in Ireland, she noted, and disposable incomes were at an all time low for many. This had also had a heavy impact on schools. Protestant schools were forced to rely solely on pupil fees, and had no recourse to other state funds to protect them. There was also pressure on the system from Ukrainian refugee children, especially with the challenges of affording translation, additional English lessons, or addressing trauma.

Seconding the report, the Revd Catherine Simpson (Down & Dromore) said that some politicians in Ireland sought to remove religious representatives from boards of governors and trustees of schools. As a result, it was vital to “demonstrate the contribution and invaluable impact churches have had on our education system since its inception”.

Canon Gillian Wharton (Dublin & Glendalough) complained that grants from the Irish government to schools were based on pupil numbers from the previous year, and this large gap caused problems.

The Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, the Ven. Andrew Orr (Cork, Cloyne & Ross), spoke about the impact of Ukrainian refugee children, noting that the number of pupils in one school rose from 140 pupils to 220 over a six-week period. This created a huge difficulty, as staff had to cope with an exponential growth in children, with no government support for the school.

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, Dr Paul Colton, endorsed Archdeacon Orr’s report, and thanked the Church’s education staff for their assistance.

Judith Cairns (Connor) said that she was concerned by calls to standardise relationships and sexual education, which would end by imposing a framework contrary to Christian values for church schools to teach. “There is no neutrality when it comes to this teaching,” she said. The Church must look at what has happened in England of its compulsory curriculum [introduced in 2020] to see the dangers ahead, she said.

The Revd Adrian Dorrian (Down & Dromore) warned of recent drastic cuts to school funding from the Northern Irish education authorities, and urged the Board to “rail against” the cuts which he described as “downright immoral”.

The Synod then voted to formally receive the report.

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