"of all parts of the school curriculum, religious instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties".
- Rule 68
This week the Minister for Education announced that Rule 68, quoted above, will be repealed in January. The Rule, part of the Department of Education’s Rules for National Schools, states that religious instruction should permeate all subjects taught in primary schools.
Because of this, the primary curriculum allocates 30 minutes of daily teaching time to religious education. The Rule’s repeal will remove this privileged position and suggests that primary schools will no longer have to spend 30 minutes per day teaching religion, twice what is spent on science or PE.
This is a matter for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which is presently examining time-allocation per subject at primary level. The repeal of Rule 68 will empower the Council to reduce the amount of time allocated to the teaching of religion.
In response to the Minister’s announcement, the catholic bishops’ Council on Education said that “the ethos of faith schools is given expression in multiple ways. These include their programme in religious education and their admissions policies. It is not the role of the Minister to determine or interfere with the ethos of faith schools”.
This criticism is broad. It addresses school patronage, admissions policies, and religious instruction. But it misses the point: the school can still have an ethos, but all schools should not have to share that ethos when it comes to the curriculum. Here’s an example: one school is under the patronage of the Church and another school is non-denominational. Currently, both schools spend 3 hours per week on religion. Non-denominational schools are being forced to teach an ethos they don’t necessarily ascribe to. Repeal will not force schools under Church patronage to teach an ethos they don’t ascribe to. The ethos can remain outside of the curriculum.
My view is that education should be separate to religion. But addressing this is not easy, as the link between education and religion in Ireland turns on patronage. Nonetheless, with school divestment slow, repealing Rule 68 will help accommodate the pluralistic society Ireland has become.