Strong differences persist about religious teaching and the dominance of church patrons in schools ahead of the publication of a major report on the issues in the coming weeks.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn received the draft final report of the advisory group to his Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector before Christmas, but it may be after Easter before it is made public.
A key focus of the forum advisory group, chaired by former NUI Maynooth professor of education John Coolahan, was to find ways of allowing Catholic bishops hand over schools to other patrons in areas where there is little or no alternative provision.
Another consideration was how religion is taught in schools and how children from non-Christian backgrounds are accommodated during faith formation classes in the 97% of our 3,300 primary schools whose ethos is Catholic or Protestant.
Catholic Schools Partnership chairman Fr Michael Drumm said most participants in the forum agreed with Mr Quinn’s aim to ensure the system is responsive to parental demand. But he told an Iona Institute conference on denominational education in a pluralist society that an approach in which a school should not give expression to its identity would undermine its characteristic spirit. “The issue of divesting schools would then be largely redundant as the denominational identity of schools would be so diluted as to be irrelevant.”
The question arose at the forum’s hearings in the context of how Catholic teaching permeates all subjects and the impact on the rights of other children to exclude themselves from faith formation classes.
The Government did not accept the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review that religious discrimination in access to education be eliminated. It said access issues are being considered in a review of the school admissions system, but the freedom of religious groups to cater for members of their faith is a core element of the system.
Educate Together, patron to more than 50 multi-denominational primary schools, said families have no choice but to send their children to a religious school in most areas.
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