Are Schools For Children Or For Gods?

“I’m a Christian… well actually, I was born a Christian… well actually, I was born and told about only one religion… so I picked it” – Glenn Wool

This week saw the launch of a petition by Scott Moore (a member of the Alliance Party but acting in a personal rather than party capacity) to amend the law, making it optional for state-funded schools to host a Christian prayer during assemblies. The campaign has received some local media coverage including BBC Talkback hosting a debate on the subject.

Boyd Sleator & Paul Burns on BBC Talkback – www.bbc.co.UK/programmes/p03330q5

You can hear Scott on BBC Radio Foyle discussing his petition at around 1hr 23mins www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06cjwl5.

The proposal is:

LETTER TO
Minister for Education John O’Dowd
Currently, your Department’s position supports the continuation of mandatory collective worship. We, the undersigned, request you change your Department’s position to support giving schools an option on whether or not to hold acts of collective worship in school assemblies, and to take the necessary action to amend the law to effect this.
What is the current legislation however?
Scott was kind enough to send me the proposal annex he had sent to the education committee (I will insert the entire text at the bottom of this article).

— 21.1. (current)

Subject to the provisions of this article, religious education shall be given in every grant-aided school other than a

nursery school and the school day in every such

school shall also include collective worship whether in one or more than one assembly on the part of the

registered pupils at the school.

—21.1. (proposed)

Subject to the provisions of this article, religious education shall be given in every grant-aided school other than a nursery school.

In the process of reading the current legislation, I find it interesting that throughout the existing law, nothing is stated about Christianity being the religion-du-jour of state schools – it mentions;
undenominational religious education, that is to say, education based upon the Holy Scriptures according to some authoritative version or versions thereof but excluding education as to any tenet distinctive of any particular religious denomination
Which is an interesting way of phrasing it. DENI religious education curriculum makes for a different sort of reading – from Key Stage 1 through 4, Christianity is not just the focus, it’s the sum of it – I do wonder what religious education is like in Northern Ireland for somebody who is of a different religion and moved here mid-education, say – an 8 year old Hindu.
There is a section in the Key Stage 2 curriculum stating that:
Teachers should provide opportunities for pupils to:
– Compose prayers to mark special events.
So a non-Christian child in Key Stage 2 education is expected to compose a prayer – despite the very act of prayer not necessarily being compatible with their own beliefs.
Also within Key Stage 2 is…
Teachers should provide opportunities for pupils to:
– Consider the respect due to creation, which is the gift of God.
– Discover the challenge for humans to become co workers with God for a better world.
This isn’t exactly “open to the concept” of different beliefs…
You actually get to Key Stage 3 before there is a mention in the curriculum of their being another option – of their being the potential for learning about non-Christian religious teachings. Pupils should be given an introduction to 2 world religions other than Christianity “in order to develop knowledge of and sensitivity towards, the religious beliefs, practices and lifestyles of people from other religions in Northern Ireland” So the curriculum itself assumes that the child, as a student in a school in Northern Ireland, is not any religion except Christianity.
Interestingly, that section also outlines that:
For each religion chosen teachers should provide opportunities for pupils to explore:
– About God.
– Sacred writings and symbols.
– The language of the writings.
– The main sacred writings.
– Symbols associated with the religion.
– Worship and prayer.
– Places where prayer takes place.
– The leader’s role in prayer and worship.
– The rituals of prayer.
– The special places of pilgrimage.
To me, this leads to there not being many applicable religions to study. Not all faiths are monotheistic, not all have sacred writings or symbols, many faiths don’t rely on leaders or pictograms – many don’t rely on pilgrimages or praying at all.
And then in Key Stage 4 – we’re done with “other” religions, we’re back onto solely Christianity.
This coupled with the institutionalization of prayer in assembly leads me to view the Christian leanings in the Northern Ireland education system to be one of conversion and retention – that schools are not there to teach about religion, but to educate children in Christianity and Christianity alone.
When budgets are stretched, why are our teachers doing the work of our preachers? In a world where maths, science, technology, language and many other subjects carry such importance in later life, why are we spending tax payers money on teaching children in schools what they could learn in church?
The petition to make prayer in assembly optional for the schools, for my part, isn’t going far enough – I am in no way anti religious, I’m not anti Christian and I’m not anti faith – but there is a time and a place for it, faith is personal – your faith belongs to you and you alone. To have an entire assembly have to bow their heads and pray along with the faith-choice of the school or of the board of governers – that doesn’t seem the most tolerant method of fostering understanding amongst children. And to let a child sit out because of their beliefs (or currently, if their parents consent) seems not to answer the problem – religion in a multi cultural society, in a school, is just another way for a kid to made to feel different. I came to the realization that I was an atheist at the age of 8 or 9, in an East Belfast primary school – and to reference the oldest joke in the province, my classmates assumed I must be “a Taig” because I was no longer classing myself as a Protestant. (Although there are many commenters on this site who also assume the same from time to time…)
I went to secondary school in the south of England and was taught RE and excelled at it, we studied all the worlds religions with little focus being put on Christianity at all – if those within the church feel that the only way they can ensure people are Christian and continue to be so, is to force them from as early an age as possible to follow the doctrine and rituals, perhaps the horse has already bolted. My partner went to secondary school in Northern Ireland – it was technically an integrated school – she was made to feel ostracised by teachers and classmates for opting out of prayer when she was old enough to decide for herself, and time was taken away from her education to participate in carol services during school hours. When she should have been learning long division and conjugated verbs, she was forced to go to a local church and sing about a god she didn’t believe in.
On almost every issue in Northern Ireland, as a society we have our priorities completely wrong – but on this issue, it’s such an easy fix – follow the religion you want to, and allow others to do the same – the state has no business teaching a child which religion it should follow, the state has no business spending tax money on Christian prayer and not that of others. Let’s teach kids what they need to learn for life and let churches teach kids what they want to learn.

– The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986

— Article 21
— 21.1. (current)
Subject to the provisions of this article, religious education shall be given in every grant-aided school other than a nursery school and the school day in every such school shall also include collective worship whether in one or more than one assembly on the part of the registered pupils at the school.

—21.1. (proposed)
Subject to the provisions of this article, religious education shall be given in every grant-aided school other than a nursery school.

—21.2. (current)
In a controlled school, other than a controlled integrated school, the religious education required by paragraph 1 shall be undenominational religious education, that is to say, education based upon the Holy Scriptures according to some authoritative version or versions thereof but excluding education as to any tenet distinctive of any particular religious denomination and the collective worship required by paragraph 1 in any such school shall not be distinctive of any particular religious denomination.

—21.2. (proposed)
In a controlled school, other than a controlled integrated school, the religious education required by paragraph 1 shall be undenominational religious education, that is to say, education based upon the Holy Scriptures according to some authoritative version or versions thereof but excluding education as to any tenet distinctive of any particular religious denomination.

—21.3. (current)

Subject to paragraph 3A, in—

(a) a controlled integrated school;

(b) a grant-maintained integrated school; and

(c) a voluntary school,

the religious education and collective worship required by paragraph 1 shall be under the control of the Board of Governors of the school and that religious education shall be subject to such arrangements for inspection and examination as the Board of Governors thinks fit.

—21.3. (proposed)

Subject to paragraph 3A, in—

(a) a controlled integrated school;

(b) a grant-maintained integrated school; and

(c) a voluntary school,

the religious education required by paragraph 1 shall be under the control of the Board of Governors of the school and that religious education shall be subject to such arrangements for inspection and examination as the Board of Governors thinks fit.

—21.4. (current)

Religious education and collective worship required by paragraph (1) shall be so arranged that—

(a) the school shall be open to pupils of all religious denominations for education other than religious education;

(b) no pupil shall be excluded directly or indirectly from the other advantages which the school affords.

—21.4. (proposed)
Religious education required by paragraph (1) shall be so arranged that—

(a) the school shall be open to pupils of all religious denominations for education other than religious education;

(b) no pupil shall be excluded directly or indirectly from the other advantages which the school affords.

—21.5. (current)

If the parent of any pupil requests that the pupil should be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious education or collective worship or from both, then, until the request is withdrawn, the pupil shall be excused from such attendance in accordance with the request.

—21.5. (proposed)

If the parent of any pupil requests that the pupil should be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious education, then, until the request is withdrawn, the pupil shall be excused from such attendance in accordance with the request.

—21.6. (current)

No payment from public funds in respect of a pupil shall be varied by reason of his attendance or non-attendance at religious education or collective worship.

—21.6. (proposed)

No payment from public funds in respect of a pupil shall be varied by reason of his attendance or non-attendance at religious education.

–Article 22

—22.1. (current)

Subject to the provisions of this Article, the teachers in every controlled school other than a controlled integrated school or a nursery school, if so requested by the board which controls the school, shall conduct or attend collective worship in the school and give undenominational religious education in the school but a teacher in a controlled school shall not be required to give religious education other than undenominational religious education.

—22.1. (proposed)

Subject to the provisions of this Article, the teachers in every controlled school other than a controlled integrated school or a nursery school, if so
requested by the board which controls the school, shall give undenominational religious education in the school but a teacher in a controlled school shall not be required to give religious education other than undenominational religious education.

—22.2. (current)

A teacher who has, under paragraph (1), been required to conduct or attend collective worship or give undenominational religious education, may make a request to the Board of Governors of the school in which he is serving to be wholly or partly excused from conducting or attending such worship or giving such education or both from conducting and attending such worship and giving such education and at the same time furnish to the Board of Governors for submission to the board which controls the school a statutory declaration that his request to be so excused is made solely on grounds of conscience.

—22.2. (proposed)

A teacher who has, under paragraph (1), been required to give undenominational religious education, may make a request to the Board of Governors of the school in which he is serving to be wholly or partly excused from giving such education and at the same time furnish to the Board of Governors for submission to the board which controls the school a statutory declaration that his request to be so excused is made solely on grounds of conscience.

—22.3. (current)

Where a teacher makes a request under paragraph (2) and furnishes the statutory declaration required by that paragraph, the teacher shall, until the request is withdrawn, be excused in accordance with the request and whilst he is so excused shall not receive less emoluments or be deprived of, or disqualified for, any promotion or other advantage by reason of the fact that he does not conduct or attend collective worship or give undenominational religious education.

—22.3. (proposed)

Where a teacher makes a request under paragraph (2) and furnishes the statutory declaration required by that paragraph, the teacher shall, until the request is withdrawn, be excused in accordance with the request and whilst he is so excused shall not receive less emoluments or be deprived of, or disqualified for, any promotion or other advantage by reason of the fact that he does not give undenominational religious education.

—22.4. (current)

Where a board is wholly or partly unable to arrange that the teachers in a school conduct the collective worship or give the undenominational religious education which it is required to provide in the school in accordance with the provisions of Article 21, the board may, for the
purpose of fulfilling its obligations under that Article, advertise for and appoint a teacher to conduct such collective worship or give such religious education.

—22.4. (proposed)

Where a board is wholly or partly unable to arrange that the teachers in a school give the undenominational religious education which it is required to provide in the school in accordance with the provisions of Article 21, the board may, for the purpose of fulfilling its obligations under that Article, advertise for and appoint a teacher to give such religious education.

-Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

–Article 25

—25.2. (current)
In paragraph (1) “relevant provision” means—

(a)any of the preceding provisions of this Part;

(b)Articles 148 and 149 (in the case of a board only) of the 1989 Order;

(c)any other statutory provision relating to the curriculum for grant-aided schools;

(d)any statutory provision relating to collective worship in grant-aided schools; or

(e)Article 46A of the 1986 Order.

—25.2. (proposed)

In paragraph (1) “relevant provision” means—

(a)any of the preceding provisions of this Part;

(b)Articles 148 and 149 (in the case of a board only) of the 1989 Order;

(c)any other statutory provision relating to the curriculum for grant-aided schools;

(d)Article 46A of the 1986 Order.

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.