The recommendations of the Forum on primary schools “caused serious concern among those involved in denominational schools”, the Catholic hierarchy has said in a statement.
The hierarchy’s Council of Education was responding yesterday after Education Minister Ruairi Quinn (pictured) revealed details of how the State will survey parents as to the kind of schools they want in 44 designated areas around the country.
It is the beginning of a process that will see an undetermined number of Catholic schools given to new management bodies.
Minister Quinn established a Forum to work out a system of identifying and transferring some Catholic schools to new bodies and also to determine how religion should be taught in the remaining denominational schools.
The recommendations in respect of religious education and ethos gave rise to concerns that they would seriously undermine the identity of denominational schools.
The bishops said yesterday that they hoped “the proposed White Paper [on the issue] should offer a better way forward”.
Among the recommendations of the advisory group to the Forum is the abolition of Rule 68 for National Schools, which recognises religious instruction as a fundamental part of the school day and permits a religious spirit to "inform and vivify the whole work of the school".
It also proposed that religion should be taught as a discrete subject apart from the rest of the curriculum, that hymns and prayers in Catholic schools should be ‘inclusive’ of the religious beliefs of all children and that Catholic schools would display the emblems of other religions and celebrate their feasts.
Mr Quinn said there would be public consultations from September to November to inform the White Paper on some of the issues raised by the forum.
The survey of parents of primary pupils and pre-school children will take place in each of the 44 designated areas in the autumn. They will be asked which type of school patron they would prefer, and if they want their child taught in an English or all-Irish school, in a mostly online survey where they must provide their PPS number for verification.
The Minister is also asking the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to begin immediate work on developing programmes on ethics and education about religion and beliefs. But he later clarified that this could be taught in primary schools without removing the right of faith-based schools to offer specific teaching of their own religion.
In their statement, the bishops also said: “The Minister clearly affirms the role of religious education and faith formation in denominational schools. The Bishops’ Council for Education welcomes this affirmation and sees it as the foundation on which to enter discussions with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on religious education in primary schools.
“Today’s statement by the Minister also provides a roadmap for consultation with parents concerning greater diversity of school provision in certain areas. It is critically important that such consultations engender public confidence and respects the rights and responsibilities of all the stakeholders in our primary schools.”