Saturday 1 October 2016

The school year is already a crowded affair

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

The unique nature of the Irish primary schools system means that schools operate under private patronage – mainly the churches
The unique nature of the Irish primary schools system means that schools operate under private patronage – mainly the churches

There are 915 teaching hours in the Irish primary school year and 92.5 of them are allocated to religious, ethics and moral education.

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It means that the average Irish primary pupil spends 10pc of his or her time on religion or ethics, second only to Israel - and twice the 5pc average across the developed world.

So, proposals from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) for the first ever State curriculum on Education about Religions, Beliefs and Ethics (ERBE) immediately raises questions about how to fit this in to what is acknowledged as a very busy school schedule.

The unique nature of the Irish primary schools system means that schools operate under private patronage - mainly the churches. It is the prerogative of the patrons to devise their own programme around religion, or complementary fields such as ethics, to support the ethos of their school.

In fact, the Education Act underpins that right, stating that the Minister for Education "must ensure a reasonable amount of time is set aside in each school day for subjects relating to or arising from the characteristic spirit of the schools".

Under Department of Education school guidelines, that translates into 30 minutes a day, 2.5 hours a week, or 92.5 hours a year.

Primary teachers and principals argue that the curriculum is overloaded.

Initiatives in recent years, such as in the areas of literacy and numeracy, have piled extra demands on schools.

The same reports from the international think-tank, the OECD, that tell us that 10pc of time in Irish primary schools is devoted to religion, also reveal that time for foreign language teaching in Irish primary classrooms is negligible, compared with 6pc in other countries.

The 4pc of time devoted to teaching science at primary level in Ireland compares with an international average of 7pc.

In light of all the growing, and competing demands, the NCCA is separately preparing advice on how best to manage and allocate time for all subjects and as part of that work is looking at what happens in other countries.

The NCCA document on ERBE makes clear that it is not intended to replace the patron's programme, or faith formation in denominational schools.

If it is not intended to replace the patron's programme, then the question to be asked is: Should the proposed new State curriculum share the 92.5 hours per year currently allocated for the patron's programme? The alternative would be to take time from another subject: English, Maths, Science, Irish or PE.

Irish Independent

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