Faith schools exist because many parents wish to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions. If the ethos of faith schools is undermined then the rights of such parents are compromised. The Bishops’ Council for Education supports the need to update and revise the 165 rules contained in Rules for National Schools. However the two rules (68 and 69) which deal with religious education, and referenced by the Minister for Education & Skills Jan O’Sullivan, should not be dealt with in isolation.
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. Legal advice available to the Department of Education & Skills confirms this. In our view the autonomy of schools, with regard to religious education and admissions policies, should be enhanced rather than weakened.
Religious education plays a key role in all faith schools. In Catholic schools religious education is based on a holistic vision of the human person with a clear respect for people of different faiths or of none. This is expressed in a commitment to learning about faiths and engaging in interreligious dialogue in age appropriate ways.
Given the current political and social situation in Europe, any rational analysis would suggest that religious education, as part of the school curriculum, is more important now than ever before. Bishops, in their role as patrons of Catholic schools, would welcome dialogue with the Department of Education & Skills on this matter.
Please click here for related statement from the Catholic Primary School Management Association: