Religion in schools. More than just Catholics

Peter Robinson’s comments on education have opened up a discussion that is solely focusing on the role of the Catholic Maintained Sector. While the discussion is worthwhile, having it without addressing other elements of religious involvement across education is dealing with less than half of the issue.

As noted in Tony Macaulay’s report on Churches and Christian Ethos in Integrated Schools:

The assumption that integrated schools would solve the sectarianism problem in Northern Ireland was a false one, a speaker told the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin yesterday. Canon Houston McKelvey, presenting the church’s Education Board report, said the reality of residential segregation in the North had to be acknowledged. In many parts of Northern Ireland pupils could not be integrated without a massive daily bussing operation, he said.’

(McGarry, 1999)

The segregated nature of many areas in the north would mean many schools would have single identity populations regardless of the Catholic church’s role.

However, the report refers to two other bodies with roles in bringing religion into schools; the Transferors Representatives Council (Controlled/State Sector) and the NI Council for Integrated Education.

The Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) is an unincorporated
Council with a membership from the three largest Protestant
Churches in Northern Ireland (Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and
Methodist). It was created to ensure a united voice representing
the churches
as former owners of schools transferred to the control
of the State. A statutory basis was provided maintaining the link
between the Churches and the schools
through transferor
representation on controlled school boards of governors.
This statutory representational role on boards of governors is
currently set out in schedules 4 and 5 of the Education & Library
Board Northern Ireland Order 1986. Under this Order, for example,
transferor governors comprise 4 out of 9 members on a controlled
primary school.
This right of representation on all controlled
primary and secondary schools
is now under serious threat due to
proposals arising from the Review of Public Administration.

So there is a statutory role for Protestant churches within the controlled sector and they see this role as part of delivering:

the Christian ethos as of right

It should also be noted that the Integrated sector is not a secular sector and while it educates children together it has a Christian ethos and facilitates religious instruction:

“Education together in school of pupils drawn in approximately equal numbers from the two major traditions with the aim of providing for them an effective education that gives equal recognition to and promotes equal expression of the two major traditions. The integrated school is essentially Christian in character; democratic and open in procedures and-promotes the worth and self-esteem of all individuals within the school community. The school as an institution seeks to develop mutual respect and consideration of other institutions within the educational community. Its core aim is to provide the child with a caring self-fulfilling educational experience which will enable him/her to become a fulfilled and caring adult.”

10. must seek to make them places where parents feel happy to send their children, where parents will feel secure knowing that the religious and cultural values and beliefs of their families will be respected in the school;
11. must ensure that they are founded with the consent of the parents, recognising that separate school systems for Catholics and Protestants are a basic right for families, parents and children who want them;
12. must ensure that there is opportunity for each child to be nurtured in his or her parents´ religious and cultural traditions;
15. must ensure that each integrated school community welcomes, respects and cherishes the children of parents having other or no religious convictions while remaining loyal to its own essentially Christian character;

RELIGION
The school shall provide a Christian rather than a secular approach and context.a) The children shall learn together all that we can reasonably expect them to learn together.
b) Where the school population includes significant numbers of children of a particular religious community, separate provision should be made to prepare such children for sacramental and liturgical participation in that specific religious community if their parents so wish. In addition the school shall encourage ministers of such religious communities to visit the school, take a pastoral interest in the children and get to know the parents and teachers.

So the integrated sector is commited to providing a Christian ethos in education and pandering to the wishes of those wanting religious instruction in classrooms. It also supports the right to segregated education for those that choose it.

As a final note one of only two exemptions to the European Council Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation is our education sector.

2. In order to maintain a balance of opportunity in employment for teachers in Northern Ireland while furthering the reconciliation of historical divisions between the major religious communities there, the provisions on religion or belief in this Directive shall not apply to the recruitment of teachers in schools in Northern Ireland in so far as this is expressly authorised by national legislation.

This was upheld by the courts in the case of two teachers against LAURELHILL COMMUNITY COLLEGE and SOUTH EASTERN EDUCATION and LIBRARY BOARD

Religion, specifically Christian religions, are ingrained across the entire education sector. Their influence so profound that they are permitted exemptions from equality law at European level.

If there is an examination of faith in schools, surely it must go beyond the narrow focus on the Catholic sector being generated as a result of comments from the DUP?

ADDS: Given the above I wonder if Richard Dawkins on Will Crawley’s programme was perhaps speaking from a position of ignorance on education here. He would hardly support a christian ethos integrated sector would he? I doubt Robinson was proposing secular education.

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