A radical change to the teaching of religion and time set aside for faith formation could be on the way for primary schools.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is finalising proposals on the time given to different subject areas at primary level. A key consideration has been the ‘patron’s time’ allocated within the school day, which current guidelines recommend should include half an hour for religion, or two-and-a-half hours a week.
The NCCA also has to weigh up the additional time, required since 2011, to be dedicated to literacy and numeracy, as well as evidence of overload while competing interests seek placement for time in the school day.
“We will be proposing the direction we think we should be heading in, which is very different to where we currently are,” said an NCCA spokesperson.
The council will publish its proposals in the autumn, and its final advice is likely to be made to Education Minister Richard Bruton before the end of this year.
The work has coincided with the NCCA’s development of a curriculum for a new primary school subject, education about religious beliefs and ethics. It received a significant response to consultation on the topic earlier this year, reflecting levels of public interest previously highlighted by the 2012 report of the Forum of Patronage and Pluralism in the primary sector.
Although not intended to replace existing religious education in schools, a focus will be to ensure children whose parents withdraw them from religious instruction in denominational schools can still opt to learn about religion and belief at school.
The wider review of subject times is in line with a requirement in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. Pupils are currently taught for nearly an hour a day in numeracy, up from just over half an hour before 2011.
The time dedicated to literacy rose to 90 minutes a day, and the impact of both increases has seen targets being met much earlier than planned and new testing being developed.
Of eight countries whose primary curriculums were examined to assist the NCCA’s considerations, half had no provision for religious education. England, Wales, and Northern Ireland allow parents to withdraw children from religious education and collective worship activities, while the North has a mostly Christian common core syllabus but also teaches about morality education and other world religions.
In France, on the other hand, the secular nature of the education system is stressed and the wearing or carrying of religious symbols is banned in schools.
Meanwhile, a project led by multi-denominational schools patron Educate Together has been awarded €284,000 in EU funding to design an online course in ethical education for teachers in four countries. It plans to promote innovative practices in schools, build teacher confidence in the area, and raise awareness of ethical education as an inclusive approach to education for pluralist democracies.
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