New plan on religion and ethics to appease Church
Integrating the teaching of world religions and ethics into primary schools is now being explored after a Catholic backlash against introducing it as a stand-alone subject.
The plan is to weave such teaching and learning into a restructured primary curriculum, which the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is currently working on.
The NCCA has formally published the report of its consultation on a proposed new subject, Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics (ERBE), which attracted some strong objections.
The option of having ERBE as a separate subject was effectively ruled out after bishops and key figures within Catholic education said it would be "unworkable" and would confuse pupils in schools under their control.
It was not intended that ERBE would replace existing religion teaching in religious-run schools, but the Catholic education interests were worried about the delivery of mixed messages to their pupils.
Now the NCCA plans to work with a network of schools, both religious-run and multi-denominational, seeking examples of best practice on matters related to education about religious beliefs and ethics.
This is with a view to incorporating teaching and learning of these themes into the new primary curriculum as part of a variety of subjects. The new curriculum, which could amount to a radical reshaping of the structure of the school day and the time allocated to different subjects, is expected to be introduced within three to five years.
A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the NCCA consultation, which was also published yesterday, stated that clarity would be required about the potential overlap of ERBE topics with other subjects, in order to avoid duplication.
The Catholic Primary School Management Association said they would "continue to engage in dialogue with the NCCA in an open and positive manner".
The association expressed the view that ERBE "is in fact misnamed, and might more appropriately be called World Views Education".
Meanwhile, a survey by the education lobby group Equate showed that 72pc of parents agree the law should be changed so that baptism can no longer be a requirement for school admission in state-funded schools, while 71pc say there should be a new subject about all religions and ethics in schools.