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Bishops respond to Minister’s rescinding of Rule 68

By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 January, 2016

Catholic education

The Bishops Council for Education has questioned the status of the current Rules for National Schools saying it is unclear and highlighting that Minister’s announcement concerning Rule 68 does not change the teaching of religious education in Catholic schools.

On Thursday, Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, announced changes to the Rules for National Schools specifically the rescinding of Rule 68 for primary schools.

Speaking at the opening of the annual Irish Primary Principals’ Network Conference at Citywest Convention Centre in Dublin to over 1,100 primary school principals, the Minister said, “Rule 68 was a symbol of our past, not our future. The language of the rule was archaic and I am glad it is gone.”

She added that currently 30 minutes of each school day is allocated to religion.

“Is that enough, or is it too much. We want children to develop a strong ethical spirit but we also want them to learn many other things. We devote less than half of the time to PE than we do to Religion” Jan O’Sullivan stated.

In its statement, the Bishops Council for Education said that, “Undoubtedly, these rules need to be updated and a revised, consolidated text produced.”

However, the Council underlined that the two rules (68 and 69) which deal with religious education, should not be dealt with in isolation.

“The Catholic ethos of primary schools in Ireland is not based on the Rules for National Schools,” the bishops said.

They referred to a paper just published by the Department of Education and Skills which makes clear: “in all primary and post-primary schools, the school’s stated ethos (that is, the values and principles it promotes) is decided by the owners or patrons/trustees of the school and not by central government” (Department of Education and Skills, Advancing School Autonomy in the Irish School System, December 2015, p.19).

The ethos of a school is given expression in multiple ways and it informs all aspects of the life of the school. These include the programme in religious education.

Underlining that faith schools exist because there are parents who wish to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions, the bishops warned that if the ethos of these schools is undermined then the rights of such parents are compromised.

“We wish to assure parents that the Minister’s announcement does not alter the ethos of Catholic schools and that this ethos will continue to find expression in all aspects of the life of the school,” they stated.

“Religious education plays a key role in all faith schools. In Catholic schools religious education is based on a Christian vision of the human person with a clear respect for all people irrespective of faiths.”

“This is expressed in a commitment to learning to engage in interreligious dialogue in age appropriate ways.  The current political and social situation in Europe would suggest that religious education, as part of the school curriculum, is more important now than ever before.”

The Bishops Council for Education said Catholic primary schools are embedded in parishes and local communities throughout the country.

“All surveys demonstrate a very high level of parental satisfaction with the service provided by these schools. Some recent comment on them is a caricature of their real contribution to Irish life,” they rebuked.

“Inspired by Christian faith and love, Catholic schools strive to be caring and inclusive communities. They have adapted to demographic change with significant net migration into Ireland and many of them have led the way in integrating migrants into local communities. They have been leaders in areas such as social inclusion, special needs and traveller education.”

At the opening of the annual Irish Primary Principals’ Network Conference, IPPN President, Maria Doyle, referred to the fact that over 8 out of 10 principals feel that the time given to the teaching of Religious Instruction should be reduced and reallocated to subjects such as PE, SPHE and the Sciences.

Separately, the new lobby group EQUATE welcomed the Minister’s repeal of Rule 68.

Michael Barron, Executive Director of EQUATE said, “This is a very significant moment for education reform in Ireland. Rule 68 stated that religious instruction was by far the most important part of the curriculum. This rule was outdated and reflected neither 21st century Irish teaching practices or the reality of the diversity of our families and communities.”

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