Trainee teachers are warned career prospects depend on religious faith

Opinion: State is openly advertising and supporting this discrimination

‘Here we have the State unapologetically telling trainee teachers that however brilliantly qualified they may be, they will probably not get a job in 90 per cent of State-funded primary schools.’ Above, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

There are a lot of reasons for shouting at Ruairí Quinn. But one of them is strangely wrapped in silence: his failure to deal with a profound breach of human rights in the education system.

He was out again last week to complain that progress on equal rights for all in Irish schools has been (what else?) “disappointing”. In reality, on the ground, things have become significantly worse. There is now an extraordinary situation where State-funded third-level colleges are openly advising would-be teachers that their career prospects depend on their religious faith.

In February 2010, I wrote here about how no one could train as a primary school teacher in a State-funded teacher-training college without being either a Catholic or a Protestant. Every student was required to pass a Certificate in Religious Studies (CRS). In the Church of Ireland College of Education, the certificate qualifies students to instruct pupils in various Protestant faiths. In all of the other six State-funded teacher-training colleges, it qualifies them to “teach religious education according to the tenets of the Catholic faith”. A would-be teacher who was not a believing Christian or who was unwilling to pretend to be so was effectively debarred from the profession.

Ethical studies course
Most unusually, that column had some effect – not because of any great powers of argument but


because the situation, once it was brought to wider attention, was clearly indefensible. Some progress was actually made – students were given the option of taking a new course on ethical studies instead of the CRS. So far, so good.

But there the good news stops. The real effect of this apparently progressive move has been a hardening of discrimination on the ground. Previously, the general attitude was one of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Schools hiring teachers often simply assumed they had the required CRS. But since the new ethics course came in, there has been what one well-informed observed describes as “a huge sweep in Catholic-managed schools for teachers to have completed their certificate in religion”. Not having the CRS is to identify yourself as not “one of us”.

This is consistent with the Catholic Church’s reworked stance on pluralism in primary education. It sounds liberal: the church now accepts that the population is religiously diverse and that schools should reflect that diversity. The catch is that the diversity must happen outside of the Catholic system. Catholic schools are for Catholics and nobody but an orthodox Catholic will be allowed to teach in them. This is exactly the position articulated in a recent interview with Patsy McGarry by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Teachers who are not sincerely willing to teach the faith “should be able to move to the type of school where they would be happier in accordance with their own conscience”.

This sounds fine until you ask where these other schools might be. The unaltered fact is that the Catholic Church controls 90 per cent of primary schools and that more than half of those (1,700 out of 3,200) are in areas where there is no alternative school. Behind the nice words there is a threat: non-Catholic teachers should leave Catholic-controlled schools and try to find work in the tiny part of the system that is not church-managed. For all the diversity-speak, the church has kept an iron grip on the vast bulk of the system. And within that system, it is tightening up its insistence that teachers must not merely be orthodox Catholics but must instruct children in the faith.

What’s almost beyond belief, however, is that the State is openly advertising and supporting this discrimination. On the website of St Patrick’s teacher training college in Dublin (a State-funded college validated by the State-funded Dublin City University), the “frequently asked questions” section deals with the matter quite bluntly. Question: “If I choose not to study for the CRS, are there any repercussions?” Answer: “As the vast majority of schools are under Catholic management, you will be limiting the number of schools where you can hold a teaching position. Also, although some people have secured employment in Catholic schools in the past without the cert, many such teachers have found that upon seeking promotion . . . they are ineligible to apply.”

Here the State tells trainee teachers that however brilliantly qualified they may be, they will probably not get a job in 90 per cent of State-funded primary schools.

Qualifications in mathematics
And if they do somehow get in,

they will be debarred from professional promotion. This open threat – or should one say brutal honesty? – is on a publicly funded website.

Ruairí Quinn, meanwhile, is sounding off about how primary school teachers need to be qualified in mathematics. He surely knows that if Albert Einstein were reincarnated and applied to be a primary school teacher in Ireland, his mathematical qualifications would be largely useless. He couldn’t work in most schools and if he somehow got in he could never be promoted. More than ever, the career prospects of a primary teacher depend on a very old skill: keeping well in with the church.