200 schools 'would be enough' to satisfy non-religious parents
Just 200 of the existing 3,300 primary schools would be needed to serve parents who want a non-religious education for their children, according to the secretary of the Church of Ireland board of education, Dr Ken Fennelly.
Dr Fennelly said figures from the Central Statistics Office indicated that 27,238 parents with a child of between five and 12 were "expressly no religion", which equated to the number of Protestant children in the same age-bracket in the country.
"Given that less than 200 schools is enough to serve the Protestant minority then it would not be, in my estimation, too much of a leap to say that the same number would serve non-religious parents," he said.
Speaking at the same event, organised by the pro-religion organisation, the Iona Institute, Professor Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate teacher training college, Limerick, described as "bizarre", proposals to teach a compulsory world religions course in primary schools, including faith-based schools, called 'Education about Religions and Beliefs' (ERB).
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is at an advanced stage of preparation on the proposed new ERB programme but Professor Conway said its introduction in faith-based schools "would undoubtedly adversely affect religious instruction and characteristic ethos".
Meanwhile, sociologists in Trinity College Dublin say religious education in Irish primary schools should not promote any particular religion.
Growing secularisation and the arrival of new culturally and religiously diverse migrants are posing new challenges, particularly in primary schools under Catholic patronage, according to the paper published in the British Journal of Religious Education. The research was undertaken by Prof Daniel Faas, Beata Sokolowska and Dr Merike Darmody.
Meanwhile, Dublin City University (DCU) president Professor Brian MacCraith told the annual conference of National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) that the education debate in Ireland was still centred on a lot of the things that were being discussed 40 years ago, including Junior Certificate reform and religious education.
He said that as Ireland emerged from a lengthy period of austerity, it was time for a step-change in the approach to education and it was "imperative that we develop a bold, new ambition for the system".