Teachers seek end to faith rule
Requirement for 'religious spirit' at primary level should go, forum hears
A RULE requiring that a "religious spirit" runs through all the work done in primary schools should be dropped, education leaders said yesterday.
The calls were voiced at the Forum on Pluralism and Patronage in the Primary Sector, which is looking at ways of creating greater choice in schools.
The forum is examining how the system can provide a diverse number and range of primary schools catering for all religions and none.
Its work includes finding a process for the handover of some of the 90pc of Catholic schools to other patron bodies.
The central role of religion in primary schools was a major topic at the forum yesterday, the second of three days of public hearings.
There were calls for the abolition of Rule 68 in the Rules for National Schools, which dates back to the 1920s, prescribing that a "religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school".
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said it was not fair to parents who did not share the school's ethos, and who had made arrangements for their children not to attend religious education classes.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said it left teachers open to charges of proselytisation.
The union also told the hearing that the requirement on teachers to uphold the religious ethos of Catholic schools could cause difficulties. Teachers who were divorced or homosexual were fearful that it could be a barrier to promotion prospects.
The Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) ,which operates five community national schools, also called for an end to Rule 68.
The issue of the teaching of religion in schools was also under scrutiny.
The multi-denominational group Educate Together does not support religious instruction as part of the school day.
However, the IVEA said suggestions all aspects of religious education take place outside the school day was overly restrictive, and interfered with the rights of parents who wanted it.
Forum chair Professor John Coolahan said that there may be a state prohibition to the opening of a non-denominational school, a matter that they would be investigating.
A non-denominational school is one where there can be no mention of religion at all. This contrasts with an Educate Together school, which has a broad education programme on world religions, although it doesn't provide formal religious instruction.