Quinn criticises pace of religious education changes

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will use a speech to primary teachers this morning to criticise the pace at which Catholic leaders are putting forward ideas on how schools can be more inclusive of children of different faiths and of no faith.

While facing a grilling himself at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation annual congress over resources and education cuts, and later at the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland over his junior cycle reform plans, Mr Quinn will air his disappointment that Church leaders have failed to set out good practice for schools to facilitate children whose parents do not wish them to take part in faith formation.

Some ideas as to how this could be done were put forward two years ago by a forum Mr Quinn set up to consider how to counter the limited choice of primary schools in some areas, and how schools in areas where increased choice is not likely might better cater for such pupils.

“It is regrettable that, two years after the publication of the forum report, we have yet to see such exemplars furnished by the Catholic Church — the main patron of primary schools in this country,” he will tell 800 delegates in Kilkenny.

Despite criticisms of being anti-religion, Mr Quinn insists on the importance of all children learning about all faiths, but says there is an important distinction between that and faith formation which is specific to the denomination of most schools. He will put forward a number of ideas of how more flexible timetabling could create better inclusiveness — such as religion being taught at the start or end of the school day — many of which are under consideration for a Government policy white paper on the wider issue which he plans to publish this year.

However, primary teachers, whose union president warned last night that a profession demoralised by successive years of growing class sizes in small schools may demonstrate their anger in next month’s local elections, will be more keen to discuss education and pay cutbacks with Mr Quinn.

At the ASTI convention this evening, Mr Quinn faces anger over his persistence in going ahead with junior cycle plans that would see second-level teachers expected to mark their own students. A survey of ASTI members shows most feel training so far for the new English curriculum was inadequate to begin teaching it from next September as proposed.

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