Church stands its ground on place of religion in schools
Bishops and other Catholic Church education interests have expressed their opposition to any move to dilute the status of religion in the primary school curriculum.
Their concerns are outlined in responses to proposals for a new way of allocating time across the school day and week currently being teased out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
They expressed the view that a proposal on a new way of allocating time in school could undermine and downgrade the religious programme of the school patron, which, in approximately 90pc of cases, is the Catholic Church.
This is the first overhaul of the curriculum introduced in primary schools in 1999 and teachers, principals, parents and all those interested in primary education had an opportunity to share their views.
The NCCA is looking at both the general structure of the curriculum and the use of time during the school day.
The body published a report yesterday on the initial consultation process.
The focus of the consultation was on the general shape of a revised curriculum and, based on outcome, the NCCA is now working on developing more specific proposals ahead of a further consultation in 2019.
In setting out the case for change, the report points to the importance of developing a curriculum for children who will begin their working lives in the fifth decade of this century and retire in the late 2080s.
According to the report, the NCCA's proposal to have two categories of time allocation - 60pc for a minimum State curriculum and 40pc for "flexible" time - met a positive response.
That would be a change from the current three-part breakdown: a time allocation for the patron's programme which in Church-run schools is religion but in others may be ethics or a mix of religion and ethics; time for curriculum subjects; and time for breaks and assembly.
The report states that "flexible" time recognises the professional autonomy of schools and teachers and could help to alleviate existing time pressures.
It would allow teachers greater flexibility to meet the needs of children and schools, it adds. It was suggested the 'flexible' time allocation could include the patron's programme and breaks and assembly.
However, the notion that the patron's programme be included in "flexible" time received "particular attention" in the written submissions sent to the NCCA, the report states.
One submission, from an adviser to the Elphin Diocese, states that moving religion to "flexible" time would have an adverse effect on schools' ethos and consequently damage children's religious and spiritual development.
Another, from an adviser to the Diocese of Cloyne, states that "it is difficult not to have suspicions that the State wishes to remove the patron's programme as part of the core curricular area" so that it can "manoeuvre itself into a situation" whereby it could introduce the proposed State curriculum on Ethics, Religion and Beliefs Education.
The Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools wrote that parents "have the right to ensure that their children's education is in conformity with their religious and philosophical convictions".