Inspectors say religion too prominent on teacher course


STUDENTS IN one of Ireland’s largest teacher training colleges spend too much time studying religion, according to a report.

Trainee primary teachers at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick also suffer from programme overload, it said – many do not have time “to critically reflect on their professional development and practice”.

The report from the Teaching Council – the professional body for teachers – said the time allocated for religion in the college was four times that for science.

While the report welcomed the fact student teachers have access to the Certificate in Religious Education on an optional basis, it was concerned at the amount of time allocated to religious education within the Bachelor of Education (B Ed) programme, in the context of the overall number of contact hours available.

It recommended the college authorities address “some inconsistency in the balance of time allocated to various programme components . . . For example, attention should be given to the fact that subjects such as science, social, personal and health education (SPHE), geography and history are currently allotted 12 hours each, as compared with the 48 hours each allotted to other subjects such as visual arts, religious education and múineadh na Gaeilge.”

The report is certain to revive controversy regarding the huge influence of the Catholic Church in teacher training. The certificate in religious studies is a compulsory requirement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference for teachers working in Catholic-managed primary schools.

These comprise more than 90 per cent of schools in the Irish system.

Some, however, have questioned whether State-funded teacher-training colleges should still require all students to complete a course in religion.

Last year a Co Cavan teacher who lost the offer of a permanent post after she failed to furnish a Catholic religion certificate was awarded more than €12,000 by the Equality Tribunal. The tribunal found a Co Cavan school had discriminated against her on the grounds of religion when she applied for a permanent post.

In the report, Mary Immaculate College is praised for the excellent work ethic of staff, its positive ethos and atmosphere and the overall positive feedback from recent graduates, principals and external examiners.

It is criticised on several fronts, however:

There was evidence, the report said, of programme overload – the intensity was such that many students lacked sufficient time to critically reflect on their professional development and practice. The problem of overload was also significant from a staff point of view.

Links between the college education and arts courses, it added, should be strengthened and made more explicit. The college should, it said, ensure the education component is afforded sufficient time so the purpose of the B Ed programme in preparing students for entry to the teaching profession can be fulfilled to the greatest extent possible.

Regarding the timing and duration of the school placement, the panel considered the timing of the placement in Year 1 was not totally satisfactory, occurring as it did before students were introduced to critical concepts in educational psychology.

The review of Mary Immaculate, which is due to be published later this week, was conducted by a panel of senior educationalists chaired by Dr Maeve Martin, former lecturer in education at NUI Maynooth.