'Religious identity is explicitly not left at the school gate' - Minister pledges strong support for community national schools
Education Minister Richard Bruton has reiterated his strong support for the growth of community national schools as a way of offering parents more choice.
Community national schools offer a multi-denominational approach to religious education, catering for all beliefs in the school day.
They are like a hybrid between the traditional religious run schools, which focus on teaching one religion, and the growing Educate Together model that provides for no religious teaching inside the school day.
Mr Bruton also made a veiled reference to other differences between community national schools and Educate Together schools which, he said many parents, appreciated, including that children wear a school uniform and that teachers are referred to formally.
Mr Bruton’s endorsement for community national schools sends a strong signal at a time of growing debate about the need for greater diversity in the system to cater for modern society.
He said while these schools were not that well known among the public, he believed they had "a bright future ahead" and a major role to play in providing choice to parents in the future.
He told the annual conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) that on the issue of faith and belief nurturing, the philosophy of community national schools was based on international best practice in this area.
The minister said their approach to religious education gave "each child better understanding and ultimately celebrating both their own and their friends’ religious and cultural identities."
He continued: "Religious identity is explicitly not left at the school gate, but used as a means of enriching the learning experience on the basis of mutual understanding and integration."
The minister applauded the way they encourage their school communities to celebrate the religious festivals and rites of passage of the various religious communities within the school, whether it be First Communion, Confirmation or Eid.
He said he was aware of non-religious and Muslim families showing up in large numbers to join the Catholic families in the school First Communion celebration, and Christian and non-religious families returning the favour for Eid.
"This is an example of precisely the type of shared understanding and integration that the State should be promoting through its education system, and I wish to recognise this here."
Community national schools, which operate under the umbrella of local education and training boards, currently account for only 11 of almost 3,300 primary schools. Educate Together has 81 primary schools
Mr Bruton said the State and the national education system had a duty to integrate and to promote understanding of each other’s cultures and beliefs.
“We have seen the failures of many other countries in successfully integrating minority religious communities into their society.
“Across the world we have lived for decades with the consequences of misunderstanding and hatred between groups of different religions across and within national borders. Increasingly in a globalised world we are seeing these trends collide with horrific consequences.
“The role of the State and in particular of its education system, in promoting inclusion and understanding between different groups is becoming more important.