Huge response to religion curriculum plans

Bishop Brendan Kelly

Katherine Donnelly

Parents have reacted in huge numbers to plans for the first ever State curriculum on religious education and ethics in primary schools.

The move could see the time allocated for traditional religion classes in primary schools eroded in order to create space for the new subject.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) launched a consultation on the proposed Education about Religion, Beliefs and Ethics (ERBE) on Tuesday, and was immediately bombarded with visitors - mainly parents - wanting to express their views.

Within 24 hours of the consultation document being posted online, more than 500 questionnaires were completed.

This is a record level of response to an NCCA consultation and also the first time that parents have contributed to such an exercise in such large numbers.

The consultation process, which is open to parents, teachers and members of the public, will continue until next spring, following which the NCCA will provide final advice to the Minister for Education.

The new curriculum was recommended by the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which explored ways to improve diversity in the primary sector, where 90pc of schools are under the control of the Catholic Church,

The State curriculum is not intended to replace the religious or ethics education programme already provided by individual school patrons, such as the Catholic Church. But finding time for it presents challenges, and one option would be to share time with existing religion programmes, which are allocated 30 minutes a day.

The Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Catholic Primary School Managers' Association (CPSMA) have called on all those involved in Catholic schools to participate in the consultation. Both bodies stressed that Catholic schools are inclusive.

Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop of Achonry and chair of the Council for Education, said the NCCA and the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism both emphasised that ERBE was not intended to replace denominational religious education.