No plan to cut religion teaching time at denominational schools

State advisory body says new curriculum will be separate to existing religion classes

The new “religion, beliefs and ethics” classes will be separate to existing faith-based classes in denominational schools. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The new “religion, beliefs and ethics” classes will be separate to existing faith-based classes in denominational schools. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

There are no plans to cut the time denominational schools can spend on teaching their own religion, a State advisory body on education has said.

All primary schools will be required to teach new classes on religion and ethics under planned changes to the national curriculum, announced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on Tuesday.

However, the new “religion, beliefs and ethics” classes will be separate to existing faith-based classes in denominational schools, which typically take up to half an hour of the school day.

Patrick Sullivan, director of primary curriculum and assessment at the council, said the new classes were not in any sense intended to replace faith formation classes in denominational schools.

“The council is not challenging the right of patrons to have time to teach their programmes,” said Patrick Sullivan, director-primary at the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The council has said the Education Act (1998) protects the right of schools to set aside reasonable time in each school day for subjects relating to the school’s ethos.

This is typically interpreted as up to half an hour a day, or two and a half hours a week.

The remainder of the school day comes under the remit of the council, which is developing the wider curriculum .

The council says new religion and ethics classes will focus on learning about the major forms of religions, traditions and worldviews of people around the world, including secular beliefs. These will be separate to patrons’ religious classes.

The council has invited schools and parents to give their views as part of a consultation process .

An issue of concern among many teachers and parents is likely to be the time dedicated to the new religion and ethics curriculum.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has said a key challenge will be to find space for the proposals in an already over-crowded curriculum.

“As far back as 2007 the INTO suggested a common religion programme for all children with some separate religious instruction, perhaps for one or two classes per week, could be arranged,” said Peter Mullan of the INTO.

“ The union also suggested that a common programme might be taught during school hours with separate religious instruction after formal school hours.”

Mr Sullivan said he was aware of concerns about “curriculum overload” among teachers and parents.

He said the question of time dedicated to the proposed religion and ethics curriculum will form part of the consultation process.

Overall, the council says the new religion and ethics section will help children develop empathy with people of diverse religions and beliefs.

In addition, the curriculum will include education in ethics focused on making choices and decisions in a way that considers the effect on others.

This will include learning about the dignity and freedom of humans, as well as the importance of human rights and responsibilities in society.

Mr Sullivan said he was aware of concerns about curriculum overload among teachers and parents.

He said the question of time dedicated to the proposed religion and ethics curriculum will form part of the consultation process.

* An online questionnaire on the new curriculum is available at: www.ncca.ie/consultation/erbe