FF backs multi-faith primary schools


THE OBJECTIVES of multi-faith understanding and social harmony “are best served by children of all faiths and none learning together”, the Fianna Fáil party has said in submission to the forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector.

The document was presented to party members at a conference on education in Birr, Co Offaly, yesterday. “We appreciate that some parents do not want their children to undergo faith formation in any one creed at school. At the same time, we recognise that other parents view faith formation as a vital part of their child’s education. We believe that it is possible, and desirable, for both of these perspectives to be respected and accommodated in the one school,” it said.

It continued that “this philosophy underpinned the announcement of a new pilot patronage model, the community national school, by the then minister for education and science, Mary Hanafin TD, in 2007.” The model had been piloted in five locations.

In the new community national schools, “children of different faiths are taught together for most of the school day. All children take part as one group in a multi-belief programme that enables them to learn about all faiths and grow to understand each other’s beliefs.

“For three or four weeks during the year, children spend all belief classes in the main faith groups (Catholics, Other Christians, Muslims and Other, to date) and are taught faith-specific material. As well as those of faith, the needs of atheist and humanist children are also catered for.” The key motive for the party’s support for such schools was “a desire to ensure whole community inclusion in our schools, not just of children of different faiths, but also of those from different socio-economic or cultural backgrounds and those with special needs,” it said.

A further advantage was that the approach could accommodate diversity without the extra investment “that would be required to provide a range of different stand-alone religious and non-religious schools within every community”.

While cherishing the contribution the churches have made to education, it “would be concerned if the divesting of schools by the Catholic Church was to lead over time to children becoming segregated on religious lines into different schools. Such segregation could seriously undermine social harmony in an increasingly multi-faith and multi-cultural environment. We believe all schools should be multi-faith in their enrolment policies and education practices, albeit under different patrons.”

Acknowledging the role Educate Together and supporting its ongoing involvement, the submission continued that “we believe the community national school model we announced in 2007 should in principle have an increasing role to play . . . However, we would only support a national roll-out of this model following evaluation and improvement as necessary in light of experience on the ground. A gradual transition in the patronage arrangements of existing schools is vital,” it added.