Religious education plans 'could dilute Catholic ethos'
on 22/01/2013 00:00:00
The report was written by the forum's advisory group, chaired by John Coolahan, retired professor of education at NUI Maynooth. As well as recommending that Catholic schools be transferred to other patrons in areas where there is demand for wider choice of schools, it made suggestions on how Catholic schools could better cater for children of other faiths and of no faith.
Prof Conway said the recommendations would force Catholic and other denominational schools to display symbols of other religions along with their own, and to vet prayers to ensure they are sufficiently inclusive. He said the proposed, new primary schools programme, Education about Religion and Beliefs, should not be mandatory because it could teach pupils a secularist view of religion and undermine the school's characteristic spirit.
The report suggested an ERB programme be taught in addition to, rather than instead of, teaching in the school's own faith. However, Prof Conway said it is hard to see how time will be found for two programmes in this area.
He claimed it was difficult to conclude from the report that submissions it received about Catholic education were given sufficient hearing, while the inputs of bodies such as Atheist Ireland and the Irish Human Rights Commission seem to have had more influence on the recommendations.
"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the thrust of the report is that everything formative in education is a problem to be managed in the interests of political correctness, rather than the core of what education is about," said Prof Conway.
He said the Church welcomes greater provision of alternative patronage.
"It hopes this will enable the schools that remain Catholic to get on with being so, without any expectation that their ethos will be diluted by the need to accommodate those of other faiths or none," he said.
A survey of parents with children of primary school ages and younger is continuing in 39 towns and areas where there is little choice other than local Church-run schools. However, Prof Conway questioned the level of demand for alternative schools, based on responses in five towns where pilot surveys took place.