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New religion and ethics course is “one initiative too many”

By Susan Gately - 16 February, 2017

There is not a demand in the educational community for an extra course in Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics (ERBE) at primary level, as teachers are already suffering from “curriculum” and “initiative” overload, according to the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA).

Mr Seamus Mulconry, General Secretary of CPSMA told CatholicIreland that much of what was being proposed in the new course was already covered in the existing Religious Education curriculum of Catholic and Church of Ireland primary schools. “People can misunderstand what is taught in religious instruction. A large portion of it is actually ethical formation. From our point of view having two ethics courses in primary schools is a bit of overkill.”

Mr Mulconry was speaking following the publication of a report by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) after it engaged in a public consultation on a new Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics course for primary schools. One-hundred-and-seventy-two organisations and individuals took part in the consultation, including the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association which represents all the boards of management of the over 2,900 Catholic primary schools in the state.

The NCCA’s final report, Consultation on the proposals for a curriculum in Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics, published on Tuesday, recognised that there were significant issues of “curriculum overload and time constraints” in primary schools, and while there was some support for the new subject, there was little overall appetite among teachers for the introduction of ERB and Ethics as proposed.

Seamus Mulconry, general secretary CPSMA

“There isn’t a massive demand out there in the educational community for a course in ERB and ethics, and I think that if you read the consultation that comes across very strongly,” said Mr Mulconry.

However, he added there is a real problem for primary school teachers – “not just with curriculum overload” but with “initiative overload”.

He said that “Schools have had to adapt to a huge amount of change in a very short period and teachers are overwhelmed with the number of initiatives being thrown at them. I think the ERB and ethics is one initiative too many.”

He added that the course may very well be “a very fine course for secular schools”, but faith schools were covering much of the material already.

The NCCA report also identified a concern held by parents, teachers and patrons across a number of different school types that the approach proposed in ERB and Ethics could undermine the ethos of faith schools.

From a student’s perspective, many denominations and others voiced concern that primary school children would be receiving mixed and conflicting messages in relation to what was being taught in their Religious Education class and in any subject area called ERB and Ethics.

The CPSMA expressed the view that ‘ERB and Ethics’ was a misnomer. It “might more appropriately be called World Views Education”.

The NCCA is now planning a consultation on time allocation in schools to tackle the curriculum overload problem. The CPSMA will also be involved in this consultation.

Meanwhile, a survey by the education lobby Equate shows that 72 per cent of parents agree the law should be changed so that baptism can no longer be a requirement for school admission in state-funded schools. However, a minority of the 400 parents surveyed said they had baptised their children to gain admission to schools, with most presenting their children for baptism for faith or family reasons.

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