Wednesday 18 September 2019

Bishop defends the right of schools to choose their ethos

The Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy
The Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy

Sarah Mac Donald and Katherine Donnelly

A Catholic Bishop has defended denominational schools' right to their ethos - saying it is guaranteed under the Constitution and in legislation.

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy was responding to plans for a new State curriculum in religious education and ethics, which would squeeze the available time for Catholic education.

He told the Irish Independent: "It is very important for denominational schools to be always able to present their faith perspective and ethos; it is guaranteed, and I believe, copper-fastened by the Constitution and in legislation."

Acknowledging that some people feel "very uncomfortable" about the Church's role in education, Dr Leahy said "there are many people who don't feel that way".

Referring to the findings of the 2012 pilot surveys on parental preferences in primary school patronage, he said: "I think people were surprised at how few people actually said they didn't want religion."

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is undertaking consultation on the development of the proposed 'Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics' programme for primary schools.

Bishop Leahy said: "Clearly this is something that we will be engaging with, because we have been asked to. We will be putting forward our considerations."

But he added: "Let's see where that goes."

Recently, theologian Fr Eamonn Conway warned that given the limited teaching resources and time in schools, the programme would "undoubtedly adversely affect religious instruction and a faith-based school's characteristic spirit".

However, the proposals have been endorsed by the chairman of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism,

Professor John Coolahan headed the group set up to advise on catering for increasing diversity in primary schools.

He said the consultation document on the proposed new subject was "educationally and civically very sound" and was "impressive in tone".

The new proposals, launched this week, have triggered a massive and unprecedented public response, particularly from parents.

By last night, less than 48 hours after the consultation went live on the NCCA website, more than 850 people had completed an online questionnaire offering their views on the document.

The NCCA consultation process will remain open until the new year, following which final advice will be prepared for the Minister for Education.

The new curriculum is not intended to replace the religion or ethics programmes offered by primary school patron bodies such as the Catholic Church.

However, in order to accommodate the new subject, one option would be to eat into the 30 minutes a day, or 92.5 hours a year, allowed for religious education.

Irish Independent

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