Catholic symbols in State schools to be phased out

Move aims to emphasise multidenominational ethos of hundreds of schools

A selection of religious symbols on display at Citywest and Saggart Community National School, an Education and Training Board (ETB). Photograph: Eric Luke

A selection of religious symbols on display at Citywest and Saggart Community National School, an Education and Training Board (ETB). Photograph: Eric Luke

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State secondary schools are to phase out a range of Catholic influences such as mandatory graduation masses, the display of Catholic symbols only and visits from diocesan inspectors.

The new rules will apply to more than 200 secondary schools run by the State’s Education and Training Boards (ETBs) – formerly vocational schools – which are officially categorised as multidenominational.

However, an unpublished document on the core values of these schools has raised concern within the sector that Catholic practices are normalised in many State schools.

The “framework for the recognition of religious belief/identities of all students in ETB schools” outlines steps schools should follow to bring them into line with a multidenominational ethos. They include that any religious symbols on display must echo the beliefs of the wider school community rather than one particular religion. It also means schools that symbolically represent religious celebrations should ensure balance, such as a school displaying a crib at Christmas but also Islamic symbols for Eid.

State curriculum

The framework states that ETB schools will not offer religious instruction or faith formation for a particular religion during the school day. Instead schools will offer the State curriculum on religious education in which students learn about a range of different religions and beliefs.

Religion teachers may only receive training from groups that are fully compatible with the multidenominational spirit of an ETB school. The document also states that the only authority that should be allowed to inspect the teaching of religion should be the Department of Education’s inspectorate, rather the diocesan inspectors. Schools events that mark a specific religious event or celebration must be on an opt-in basis rather than requiring students to opt out, it states.

It is understood that the rules will not necessarily apply to a separate category of 70 ETB schools that have legally binding agreements with the Catholic Church that guarantee certain provisions for Catholic children.

Paddy Lavelle, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, confirmed that the unpublished document formed part of a wider framework addressing the “multidenominational aspect of our schools specifically and the importance of catering for children of all religious and non-religious worldviews equally”.