The Trinity conference will address the role and place of religion in Irish primary schools in the 21st century amidst this ongoing debate on school patronage in Ireland and the increasing ethno-cultural and religious diversity. Its aim is to have an evidence-based research-driven discussion and to bring together all the main stakeholders, including representatives from all major types of Irish primary schools, as well as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), to assess the current state of affairs and provide policy-oriented solutions.
Daniel Faas, Associate Professor in Sociology and organiser of the conference at Trinity College Dublin says:
“Ireland is rapidly becoming more liberal, secular and tolerant. The Census 2016 shows only 78.3% identifying as Catholics (down from 84.2% in 2011) with 10% of the population stating ‘no religion’. However, 96% of primary schools are still denominational, and this imbalance demands for a further expansion of multi-denominational education. In February 2018, the Department of Education and Skills issued a Circular at post-primary level requiring schools to consult with parents in relation to opting out of religious instruction and requiring schools to offer alternative subject(s). Primary schools should give serious consideration to a similar approach. And earlier this month, the Government approved to remove the ‘baptism barrier’ for Catholic primary schools, providing more equal opportunities for parents to secure their child a place at their local school. These latest changes underline that power and influence of the Church has eroded – and all stakeholders need to reflect on that.”
Increased migration poses new educational challenges for receiving countries like Ireland. Fair and inclusive education for migrants and minorities is key to enhancing equitable outcomes for all children.
Currently there are 12 state-owned Community National Schools and 81 privately-governed Educate Together Schools which provide for a more multi-denominational education. This however contrasts with over 2,800 Catholic church-owned denominational primary schools in Ireland. Unlike in most other European countries, this presents a huge diversity of approaches to religious education in the educational landscape ranging from learning in religion (faith formation) to learning about religion (as a knowledge discipline).
In Europe, there is a wide variety of approaches dealing with religion in schools and wider society. For example, France and Slovenia do not teach religious education in schools. In countries such as Denmark, Greece, Germany and Ireland, the subject is compulsory though some countries including Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands do offer opt-out options. Yet in other societies such as Germany, Finland or Belgium an alternative subject of ethics is offered to students. There is therefore no agreement among politicians and policymakers around the role and place of religion in schools. Against this context, this one-day conference looks at the range of religious education approaches in Ireland and the heterogeneity that has developed in the primary education sector.
The conference is organised jointly by the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin and the special interest group "Belief Systems, Ethics and Philosophy in Education" of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI).