Educate Together welcomes the debate sparked off by the officers of the Irish Primary Principals Network on the need to address the role of religion in Irish primary education.
Since 1978 Educate Together has developed a well-tested alternative to the denominational model of primary school in Ireland. The core legal principle of this alternative is to respect all children equally regardless of social, cultural or religious backgrounds.
In order to fully respect each child’s right to education as well as their freedom of conscience, Educate Together has removed religious doctrinal instruction or sacramental preparation from the school day. In this way, children are protected from being either forced to sit through or be removed from the classroom while a religious lesson which conflicts with their conscience is taught. Teachers are protected from being placed in a position where they are asked to teach as religious truth a faith that they do not hold themselves. Parents are also protected from the need to make an issue of their religious faith and risk their child becoming an outsider in the local school.
At the same time, Educate Together supports the religious rights of families. Educate Together schools, as far as possible, facilitate parents to set up religious instruction classes in the school premises after school hours. Religious Instruction is thus a parent-organised, extra-curricular, optional activity in Educate Together schools, In many Educate Together schools, these voluntary extra-mural classes are organized with the support of local religious organizations. The responsibility for religious formation is clearly placed with the family and their religious organisation, while the school is obliged to provide an atmosphere which respects and support that choice.
It is noteworthy that it is generally only Roman Catholic families who have organized these classes as almost all other religious faiths in Ireland already have well-established doctrinal classes operating outside the National School system.
During the school day, Educate Together schools teach an ethical education curriculum entitled Learn Together. This curriculum is divided into four strands – ‘Moral and Spiritual Development’; ‘Equality and Justice’; ‘Belief Systems’; Ethics and the Environment.’ This curriculum defines the values and ethos of the school. Its aim is to educate children to be active and moral citizens, knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities in an exciting and diverse world.
Educate Together believes that there is an overwhelming case for Government support for this model of secular management of schools. It provides an educational space of equality and respect that is built on a firm legal foundation. Families of all religious backgrounds have security and equality in these arrangements and find in them a vibrant and healthy environment for their children. They mirror the social spaces of equality and respect that will be key for the future of our communities, country and world.