Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has abolished a 50-year old official rule which gives religion classes a privileged status at primary level, paving the way for a potential reduction in time spent on faith formation.
At present, 30 minutes of each primary school day is allocated to religious education - twice the amount of time devoted to subjects such as science or physical education.
Speaking at the Irish Primary Principals Network conference on Thursday, Ms O’Sullivan said the 1998 Education Act protects the right of schools to set aside reasonable time in each school day for subjects relating to the school’s ethos.
“But Rule 68 was a symbol. A symbol of our past, and not our future. The language in the Rule was archaic. And I’m glad it’s gone,” she said.
Ms O’Sullivan said she has also directed departmental officials to begin to identify other rules for rescinding.
“It is anachronistic for us to still look to a set of rules drafted in 1965, many of which will have been superseded by curricular or legislative changes,” she said.
She said the consultation on a new curriculum is under way for primary schools, which will provide education about religion, beliefs and ethics.
“That curriculum will give every child a shared knowledge of the religions and beliefs held by people in Ireland and across the world. And it will imbue in every child an ethical understanding of relationships between people, and how we connect to our world,” she said.
Ms O’Sullivan said science education and physical education gets less than half the time religion does in the curriculum, and there are calls for subjects such as philosophy, coding and financial education to be introduced.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will begin a consultation on the new primary curriculum framework this year.
A poll by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) surveyed the views of almost 600 principals.
Eight out of 10 primary school principals believe less time should be spent on teaching religion in the classroom, a new survey shows.
When asked what subject they felt less time should be allocated to in the context of a crowded curriculum, some 85 per cent listed religion.
The Bishops’ Council for Education said the Minister’s announcement concerning rule 68 does not change the teaching of religious education in Catholic schools.
“Religious education plays a key role in all faith schools. In Catholic schools, religious education is based on a Christian vision of the human person with a clear respect for all people irrespective of faiths,” the council said.
“We wish to assure parents that the Minister’s announcement does not alter the ethos of Catholic schools and that this ethos will continue to find expression in all aspects of the life of the school.”
Equate, a children’s rights organisation advocating for changes in primary and secondary school education, said the abolition of Rule 68 “is a very significant moment for education reform in Ireland”.
Michael Barron, Equate executive director, said: “Rule 68 stated that religious instruction was by far the most important part of the curriculum. This rule was outdated and reflected neither 21st century Irish teaching practices or the reality of the diversity of our families and communities.”