Nativity plays not at risk, says Department of Education spokeswoman
Minister accused of using spending cuts ‘to remove churches from education system’
Claims that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn was putting the nativity play at risk in schools has been dismissed by a spokeswoman for the department.
Claims that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn was putting the nativity play at risk in schools have been dismissed by a spokeswoman for the department, who said “there has been no suggestion that the nativity play is to go”.
She also rejected suggestions that cuts in education were aimed at driving the churches out of schools. There had been no cut in the pupil-teacher ratio in last week’s budget and no cuts involving non-fee paying schools this year or for the past three years, she noted. A consultation process with parents was ongoing, she said, and did not wish to comment further lest it prejudice the outcome.
During an education debate at the Church of Ireland Dublin and Glendalough diocesan synods last week, it was suggested that the Minister’s policies were putting the Christmas nativity play under threat.
“The current Minister of Education has been very clear about his agenda to make schools more secular,” delegate Joyce Purdue told the synods in Dublin’s Dundrum. Seconding a Board of Education report, she said the Minister wanted “schools to ‘respect the right to opt out of religion class’”.
He “has asked for a new ethics programme to be developed and introduced. He wants schools to have written policies on religious and cultural celebrations as well as policies on how school assemblies and communal prayers should be conducted. Are we now seeing the beginning of the end of the Christmas nativity play so loved in schools?”, she asked.
Referring to a leaflet circulated to parents recently by the Department of Education on inclusivity in schools, she said that, reading it, “you would think that there is little inclusivity in Irish education”. But “Protestant schools are now, and have always been, inclusive. They have always enrolled children of different faiths and none. Before the advent of the Educate Together sector, Protestant schools did just that, they ‘educated together’”.
She said there was a risk that secularising schools would have a “detrimental effect on parish communities” and that “in pursuing his own secular agenda the Minister is at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and dismantling a system that has placed the school at the core of the parish community.”
Malahide rector Rev Norman Gamble described spending cuts in education as “part of a campaign to remove the churches from the education system and push us to the fringe.
“Yet 80 per cent to 90 per cent of people in our own country identify with a Christian denomination of some sort”.