Saturday 3 December 2016

Varadkar and Bruton at odds over non-religious ethos for primary schools

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

Pupils at Hansfield Educate Together School in Ongar, Dublin which was officially opened by Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Pupils at Hansfield Educate Together School in Ongar, Dublin which was officially opened by Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has rowed in over the growing controversy about who should run primary schools.

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Mr Varadkar has given a ringing endorsement to Educate Together, the multi-denominational body that does not offer any religious education within the school day.

However, his Fine Gael colleague, Education Minister Richard Bruton, has signalled clear support for community national schools.

Community national schools (CNS) are run by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and provide time for religious teaching within school hours.

But unlike the traditional Catholic school, they facilitate faith or belief teaching both for Catholics and non-Catholics - often in a four-week block period once a year.

Community national schools also differ from traditional Catholic schools in that they don't have a rule giving priority admission to children who have been baptised as Catholics.

Educate Together opened its first school in 1978 and will be patron to least 79 primary schools this September, while there are 11 community national schools, the first of which opened in 2007.

Mr Varadkar made his views known at the opening of the new Hansfield Educate Together primary school in his West-Dublin constituency.

He spoke generally about the value of diversity and how the school was a welcome addition to the tapestry of the rapidly developing neighbourhood.

The minister referred to Bloomsday, the previous day's celebration of James Joyce, commenting that the famous Irish writer had a tough time in school and was unlucky that Educate Together was not around in his day.

He said Joyce would have loved the Educate Together philosophy, adding that, personally, he really supported the Educate Together approach "where children stay together throughout the day and are not split during school hours".

The minister said in an Educate Together school "no child was an outsider". He related a story from his own primary school days: "One of the other boys in my class who was a Baptist stayed behind when we went down to the church, or read in the corner on his own when we received religious instruction.

"I didn't like it then and the fact I remember it 30 years later says something in itself."

Mr Bruton indicated his support for the development of the CNS model recently. Currently, 90pc of primary schools are run by the Catholic Church.

The minister and his officials are exploring a range of options and he said he did not favour one route over another.

But he said that community national schools were a "good model" because they had the State as a patron, "which has a lot of merit in it", and because they accommodated different forms of religious instruction.

Irish Independent

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