Schools may have to reduce teaching time for religion

Maths, Irish and English to be prioritised under radical new curriculum proposals

Schools may have less time to teach religion in the classroom under radical proposals being considered by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Schools may have less time to teach religion in the classroom under radical proposals being considered by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Schools may have less time to teach religion in the classroom under radical proposals being considered by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum.

Most primary schools typically spend up to 2½ hours teaching religion – or faith formation – each week.

However, under a major change being considered, schools would be required to prioritise teaching time for State-backed curriculum subjects such as maths, Irish and English, as well as a new subject about world religions and ethics.

Denominational schools would be left to decide how much time they wish to dedicate to faith formation outside of these core subjects.

The move would pave the way for less teaching time on faith formation during the regular school day.

Such a move is likely to be broadly welcomed by many school principals who are worried about “curriculum overload” and the amount of time spent on teaching religion.

However, it is likely to spark controversy among religious groups who feel it may undermine the place of religion in denominational schools.

A spokesperson for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment declined to comment except to say it expects to publish detailed proposals in the autumn.

Time allocation

“We are still developing those proposals, which are due in the autumn.”

A spokesman for the Minister said he had not yet received any proposals, but looked forward to consulting education partners on them.

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, such as faith formation.

However, it does not specify how much time should be set aside for this subject, allowing for flexibility on the part of schools.

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

This subject will focus on learning about the major forms of religions, traditions and worldviews of people around the world, including secular beliefs.

Empathy

It is likely that much of this subject will overlap with patrons’ programmes in multi-denominational schools run by patrons such as Educate Together and the Education and Training Board.

A survey of almost 600 principals published earlier this year found that eight out of 10 primary school principals believe less time should be spent on teaching religion in the classroom.

When asked what subject they felt less time should be allocated to in the context of a crowded curriculum, 85 per cent listed religion.

By contrast, about 90 per cent of principals felt more time should be dedicated to subjects such as maths, English and physical education.

Traditionally, religious instruction is given about 30 minutes a day out of a five-hour-and- 40-minute day.

The time allocated for religious instruction normally increases as schools become involved in preparing children for sacraments such as Holy Communion and Confirmation.

The previous minister for education Jan O’Sullivan – a strong supporter of having less emphasis on religion in the classroom – earlier this year removed the 50-year-old “rule 68”, which gives religion classes a privileged status.