Survey of principals shows support for less religious teaching

Primary survey shows 90% want more time for focusing on maths and English

Eight out of 10 primary school principals believe less time should be spent on teaching religion in the classroom, a new survey shows. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters.

Eight out of 10 primary school principals believe less time should be spent on teaching religion in the classroom, a new survey shows. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters.

 

Eight out of 10 primary school principals believe less time should be spent on teaching religion in the classroom, a new survey shows.

The poll by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) surveyed the views of almost 600 principals.

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.

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 per 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 IPPN - which hosts it annual conference in Dublin this week - said that time given to core curriculum subjects such as English, Irish and Maths has been “sacrificed” in favour of liturgical preparation in denominational schools.

The survey results come as debate intensifies over the role of religion in the classroom and whether the existing curriculum is overloaded.

New classes

Under plans announced last year, all primary schools will be required to teach new classes on religion and ethics.

These new “religion, beliefs and ethics” classes -which focus on world religions and other belief systems- will be separate to existing faith-based classes in denominational schools.

The IPPN has said new initiatives introduced into schools such as the literacy and numeracy strategy, school self-evaluation and the roll out of the new language curriculum are placing new demands on schools to find the time to implement these planned changes.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has emphasised there are no plans to cut the time denominational schools can spend on teaching their own religion.

That is because 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.

‘Rule 68’

However, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan supports plans for less emphasis on religion in the classroom.

Last month she announced plans to remove “rule 68”, a 50-year old official rule which gives religion classes a privileged status.

This could, in time, pave the way for a potential reduction in time spent on faith formation.

Ms O’Sullivan said at the time that the removal of the rule will likely trigger a necessary discussion on how much time should be spent on religious education in our schools.

“We want our children to develop a strong, ethical spirit, and an understanding of their place in the world,” she said, last month.

“But we also want them to learn many other things. We want them to be physically active and fit, but we devote less than half of the time to PE that is devoted to religion.”