Religion 'a waste' of class time
Education Minister wants pupils reading instead of preparing for sacraments
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn would prefer schools spent time improving reading and maths skills rather than preparing pupils for sacraments such as First Communion and Confirmation.
The minister said the faith formation carried out during the day took up time that could be used in other ways.
He referred to a severe decline in performance by Irish 15-year-olds in the international OECD/PISA league table on literacy published last year, dropping from 5th to 17th place. Maths also dipped.
Primary pupils spend 30 minutes a day on religion, which in Catholic schools includes preparation for the sacraments.
Other schools, such as the multi-denominational Educate Together sector, also spend 30 minutes daily on ethical issues, but it does not include formal religious instruction.
Mr Quinn said while no person should enter the world without clear knowledge and understanding of the history of religions, faith formation was a different thing.
"It takes up a lot of time, some people suggest it might be done by parents or parish, perhaps within the school building but outside school teaching hours.
"Quite frankly, we have overloaded the curriculum," Mr Quinn said while attending the annual conference of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS).
But, he added, he wanted to maximise the potential for the system to educate children.
Mr Quinn was speaking in the context of the forum he has set up to decide on the transfer of some of the 92pc of Catholic primary schools to other patron bodies.
Schools may be handed over to existing patron bodies, such as Educate Together, or, in some cases, new arrangements could be put in place.
The Catholic bishops state that any new arrangements must respect the rights of parents, in particular in relation to the religious instruction of children, within the curriculum.
Mr Quinn said he respected the autonomy of the different school patron bodies, and their commitment to education.
"This is a dialogue, but Ireland has changed", he said.
Mr Quinn's stark message to the ACCS was that "we have to do more with less". ACCS general secretary Ciaran Flynn said while they did not like the minister's message, they applauded his honesty.
Meanwhile, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork Dr Paul Colton told the conference that their schools were facing a threat to their survival because of the raft of education cuts.
Dr Colton said there was a lot of apprehension about the impact of measures, such as the value-for-money review of small schools and changes in entitlement to school transport, on the Protestant sector.
Many Protestant schools, particularly at primary level, are small, rural-based and widely dispersed and, as a minority sector, it has enjoyed special protection from the State.