Monday 24 July 2017

Bishops seek religion veto on teachers in new schools

John Walshe Education Editor

THE Catholic Church has drawn up a list of "non-negotiable" demands in return for its involvement in new multi-denominational primary schools.

Catholic bishops have welcomed the new model, saying it is no longer realistic for their church to be almost the sole provider of primary education in Ireland.

But the Irish Independent has learned that they have listed a series of demands in private talks with the Department of Education and Science.

The demands include: la veto over the appointment of teachers who provide religious instruction to Catholic pupils. lvisiting rights for parish clergy and pastoral workers to prepare Catholic pupils for Confession, Communion and Confirmation. lDiocesan advisers to be allowed support, evaluate and have inspection roles in the school.

The demands have led to teachers accusing the Catholic Church of trying "to have its cake and eat it". INTO general secretary John Carr warned that the union would oppose any veto arrangement in the new State schools.

The union has been seeking a forum to discuss the issue of new schools and Education Minister Mary Hanafin will today announce her intention to hold such a forum in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.

The Church's demands are set out in a series of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. The most significant document gives details of a meeting between the Church and the department on April 27 last year.

It was attended by Bishop Leo O'Reilly, who chairs the Episcopal Commission on Education, and by Monsignor Jim Cassin, secretary to the Commission. The Church side set out a series of "protocols" .

One of these reads: "Teachers delivering religious instruction to Catholic students will be duly qualified and approved by the competent religious authorities."

Another says that parish clergy and pastoral workers will have visiting rights in the school to support sacramental preparation, to provide links with parishes and, where appropriate, to offer pastoral care.

Turning to the characteristic spirit of the school, the Church side suggested a clause to the effect: "There will be an emphasis on promoting right relationship with God, self, others and creation."

Requirement

Another document says the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) had recommended to the bishops in 2004 that the basic requirement would be that religious instruction and formation of Catholic children in the faith by a qualified teacher, during the school day would be the "minimum non-negotiable requirement" for a new multi-denominational school.

Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, said last night that the documents will leave the suspicion in many people's minds that the model is being configured primarily to facilitate the withdrawal of the Catholic Church from the management of primary schools, while bestowing on it a privileged position in the new model.

The new schools will be opened in the Phoenix Park and in Phibblestown, Dublin 15 in the autumn. Scoil Choilm in Diswellstown, Dublin 15, is to change over to the new model after a two-year period.

However, County Dublin VEC lodged applications for two additional primary schools, in Skerries and Swords, another document reveals.

Chief Executive Officer Pat O'Connor said he believed that the pilot project would be enriched if it had a cluster of schools, rather than a single school.

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