A story in yesterday's The Irish Independent maintained that information made available under the freedom of information act indicated that the Church’s non- negotiable demands for involvement in the new multi-denominational primary schools were:
- a veto over the appointment of teachers who provide religious instruction to Catholic pupils;
- visiting rights for parish clergy and pastoral workers to prepare Catholic pupils for Confession, Communion and Confirmation and
- Diocesan advisers to be allowed support, evaluate and have inspection roles in the school.
However speaking on Morning Ireland yesterday, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the bishops’ National Advisory Council on Education, said that the Church was not looking for a veto over the appointment of teachers.
“The proposal was that the same model would be used in primary schools, as is currently in use in post primary schools which is exactly what John Carr (INTO general secretary) was saying was desirable.”
This proposal states that each faith should receive instruction in their own faith by people who are qualified in that faith, said the bishop, and it also provided for diocesan advisors to go into schools, and to have people of the faith have an input into the selection of the teacher, from the point of view that the teacher has to be qualified to teach the subject.
However Bishop O’Reilly denied that this amounted to a veto.
“When a post is advertised for a teacher of religion, an interview board is set up, usually made up of five people. If the post is for a teacher of religious education, the patron has a right to have one nominee on the board. That is not a veto but an input,” he said.
He said a teacher of a particular primary school class, might not be the religious education teacher.
“It has to be worked out but I would imagine that if there were teachers of different denominations, as you have in vocational schools or community schools, that during religion class, the teaching would be done by one of the Catholic teachers to Catholic pupils.”
Meanwhile the Minister for Education Mary Hanafin announced a national forum to take place in June to examine the management of primary schools.
The forum, which will bring together church bodies, school management groups, parents and other education partners, is designed to chart a future course for the management of schools in a multicultural and increasingly secular society.
It has been warmly welcomed by teacher unions and the Catholic Primary School Management Association.
“We would be very happy if the VEC model can be adopted, though obviously there have to be changes,” Fr Dan O’Connor, General Secretary of CPSMA told ciNews.
Fr O’Connor, who has been attending the INTO conference, said he was disappointed that there was no reduction in class sizes. “Although there is a downturn in the economy, schools should not suffer. Health and education must be priorities,” he said.
Fr O’Connor who was involved in the bilateral talks between the CPSMA and the Department of Education said that they had not sought a veto on the appointment of teachers.
“We just said there was no need to re-invent the wheel. The system used in Vocational Schools (for the provision of religious education) which has worked well since 1930, could be transferred to primary schools. Obviously though it would have to be adapted and tweaked.”
“We are wide open to negotiations,” he said.
Meanwhile a survey by the Iona Institute reveals that parents want to pick the kind of school they want for their children, and that only a minority favour a 'one-size-fits-all' school catering for children of all religions and none.
73 per cent of adults believed parents should have the right to choose from a variety of publicly funded schools for their children. By contrast, just over a quarter say that in order to promote social integration, all children should go to the same kind of school.
Respondents were also asked what one kind of school they would choose for their children from four options provided. The most popular choice was a Catholic school (47 per cent) followed by a 'State-run school in which all religions are taught' (37 per cent). Only a small minority of people (11 per cent) favoured schools in which no religion is taught.
The poll was conducted by RED C on behalf of The Iona Institute which together with The Word magazine will hold a conference on denominational schools in the Tara Towers Hotel on April 4.
The new multi denominational schools will be opened in the Phoenix Park and in Phibblestown, Dublin 15 in the autumn. Scoil Choilm in Diswellstown, Dublin 15, is to change over to the new model after a two-year period.
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