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Irish Minister of Education 'Quinn' challenges church over patronage of schools

Minister suggests teaching of religion at either end or start of school day

Irish Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has thrown down a challenge to the Catholic Church to give concrete examples of how its schools can be “genuinely inclusive” for children of all faiths and none.

In an address to be delivered at a teacher union conference this morning, Mr Quinn says is it “disappointing” that the church has failed to provide such information to his department as had been promised in previous discussions.

He also suggests that, in developing policies on inclusivity, Catholic schools in areas where there is no alternative patronage should consider timetabling faith formation at the start or end of the day to minimise disruption to class.

The intervention comes just days after Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin called for an acceleration of reforms to achieve a “plurality of patronage” in Irish education. In an interview withThe Irish Times , the archbishop said he believed “a more robust collaboration” between the church and the Department of the Education “would make these things move a little quickly”.

Robust collaboration
Picking up on these comments, Mr Quinn says: “I look forward to working with Archbishop Martin and others to develop that robust collaboration.”

He notes that one of the issues highlighted by the report of the forum on pluralism and patronage in 2012 is “respecting a child’s rights not to receive religious instruction”.

Some 1,700 of the State’s 3,200 primary schools are in areas where there is no alternative school – and thus local children are typically obliged to accept Catholic patronage.

White Paper
Mr Quinn is developing a White Paper on inclusivity in these “standalone” schools and he urges the church to engage fully in this process.

“We are regularly told that our denominational schools are inclusive and there is anecdotal evidence that this is true in many cases – thanks to the good work of teachers, who are determined to welcome all children.

“However, we need clearly demonstrated examples of genuinely inclusive schools, so that other schools can learn what works for them.

“It is regrettable that, two years after the publication of the forum report, we have yet to see such exemplars furnished by the Catholic Church – the main patron of primary schools in this country. That is disappointing, but I remain convinced of the importance of having such exemplars, to help guide the approach in all of our schools.”

While he says he doesn’t wish to be prescriptive about policies on inclusivity, there are suggestions that could be usefully aired.

“For example we could have more flexible timetabling for religious education. One possibility, raised in the forum report, was for religion classes to be held at different times for different class groups. This would allow students opting out of religion classes to participate in another class. Such an arrangement could work better in larger schools.

“Another option in some cases would be to have faith formation at the start or end of a school day.”

Mr Quinn points out that, aside from the white paper, these issues might also be addressed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment this October in its consultation proposals for the revision of the primary curriculum.

“This will again allow for an examination of timetabling religion at the start or end of the school day, or scheduling religion at different times for different classes in larger schools.”

Noting his views on this topic “have often been misrepresented”, Mr Quinn expresses his long-time admiration for Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, and says it is important to differentiate between faith formation, and education about religion and beliefs.

“Education about religion and beliefs, as I have said repeatedly, is an essential component of any well-rounded education.”

Faith formation, he says “is equally important for many families; indeed for most families” and the rights of these families are clearly outlined in the constitution. But “so too are the rights of families who wish to allow their children to opt-out of this aspect of religious education.”

Source: The Irish Times