Crucifix to stay in the classroom as report urges inclusiveness
THERE is no question of banning the crucifix in Catholic primary schools, but a new report suggests artifacts of other faiths are displayed to mark major religious festivals being celebrated by some of their pupils.
It is among the recommendations for promoting inclusiveness in the nine in 10 primary schools that are run by the Catholic Church, where growing numbers of pupils are of a different faith, or none.
The proposals cover a range of issues aimed at ensuring that no child feels alienated by a school's ethos and religious practices, particularly those for whom a Catholic school is the only option.
They are intended as guidelines for schools and also cover the right to opt out of religion classes, the timing of religion classes and other religious activities and options for pupils in relation to religious ceremonies and the celebration of religious festivals.
The report highlights examples of good practice and different approaches being adopted with a view to making all pupils feel welcome and included, no matter what their religion, beliefs or background.
It states that a school that permits enrolment by those of a different faith or none, but does not move actively to welcome these pupils and include them is "taking a very minimalist view of inclusiveness".
The report notes that there are "many examples of schools which are working to develop good practices in relation to accommodating diversity" but that other schools might not be aware of how they approached the issue.
It details arrangements for opting out of religion classes and notes how, in many schools, many children leave and re-enter the classroom for a variety of reasons, such as learning support, and leaving during religious instruction was unlikely to attract greater notice.
Options for the timing of religious classes include one or two longer sessions a week, rather than have 30 minutes a day, five days a week, as a way of minimising disruption.
In relation to the celebration of other religions, it notes that many schools take steps to mark major festivals while some make rooms and facilities available after school for religion classes
On the display of religious artifacts it says that banning them is not suggested, and that while the ethos of the school may be reflected in permanent displays of such items, a space be also set aside for temporary display of artifacts from other traditions to coincide with major festivals.
The proposals arise from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector and the ensuing public consultation process on the best way to accommodate children of many beliefs and none in a denominational school.
The forum also addressed the issue of divesting some Catholic schools to other patron bodies, such as Educate Together, as a way of creating greater choice, but progress has been slow on that front.
It was foreseen that the measures to promote inclusivity would become a matter of Government policy, but it was decided that the best way forward was to work at encouraging a change in culture.
So, the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Direction report, published by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn did not set out to be prescriptive, but encourages schools to examine their practices and consult with parents about any changes that might be necessary.
The report, which will now be discussed with patrons, school managers, teacher unions, parent bodies and others, is regarded as a staging post in a process flexible to changing needs, rather than an final destination.