Patronage plans broadly welcomed
There has been a broad welcome to suggested changes to school patronage though one group said some proposals would "seriously undermine the identity of denominational schools".
The report of the Advisory Group of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which has been written to give guidance on how best to transfer Catholic schools to other patrons, is published today.
In its first phase it identifies 43 towns and four Dublin areas where there is likely to be a significant demand for educational diversity.
Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, has predicted about 50 per cent of primary schools - about 1,500 in all - will eventually be transferred out of Roman Catholic patronage.
The Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference welcomed the report's publication, and said it would study the report and "reflect on its various recommendations".
"The report clearly affirms the importance of denominational schools and the continuance of faith formation, including sacramental preparation, in Catholic schools," notes the Council.
The Integration Centre described the Minister's determination to overhaul the school patronage system as "brave, given the complexity of the system and the current economic situation".
"It is of the utmost importance that this work is not left to stand alone," said chief executive, Killian Forde. The Minister must ensure it was the beginning of an ongoing process towards a system of schooling that fairly and equally represented the people of Ireland, he said.
He welcomed the call for a review of the opt-out available to schools in the Equal Status Act, which allows schools to refuse admission based on religion.
"The Integration Centre would like to see this section revised so that no child is ever refused access to an education."
He also welcomed the call to delete rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools. He said this, which mandates teachers to inculcate Christian values throughout their teaching, was "at the core of what is wrong with the current system".
The Iona Institute, however said this would "seriously weaken the right of denominational schools to permeate the school day with their ethos".
Senator Ivana Bacik said "fundamental changes to the current denominational structure of primary schooling in Ireland are long overdue".
She was concerned implementation may be delayed however. "I urge the Minister and the relevant patrons to move swiftly to ensure that some increase in provision of multidenominational places is made immediately."
She too welcomed the recommendation that rule 68 of the rules for national schools be deleted.
She said she hoped there would be real change, with faith formation or religious instruction classes taking place outside of or at the end of the school day.
"This would be in accordance with the Report's recommendation that 'sacramental preparation, or education for religious rites of other belief systems, should not encroach on the time allocated for the general curriculum,'."
Rule 68 of Rules for National Schools, published in 1965, states:
"Of all the parts of the school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God's honour and service, includes the proper use of all man's faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use.
"Religious Instruction is therefore, a fundamental part of the school course and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.
"The teacher should constantly inculcate the practice of charity, justice, truth, purity, patience, temperance, obedience to lawful authority, and all the other moral virtues. In this way he will fulfil the primary duty of an educator, the moulding to perfect form of his pupils' character, habituating them to observe, in their relations with and with their neighbour, the laws which God, both directly through the dictates of natural reason and through Revelation, and indirectly through the ordinance of lawful authority, imposes on mankind."