Primary teachers urge removal of Catholic religious certificate needed to teach in most schools

INTO hears State has ‘abdicated responsibility to religious organisations’

Primary teachers have called for the removal of the Catholic religious certificate which is required to teach in most national schools. Almost 90 per cent of primary schools are under Catholic patronage where the certificate is a necessary qualification due to the way religion is integrated into the curriculum.

A motion to remove this requirement was passed by a large majority at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) annual congress in Derry. Delegates also instructed the union to carry out a survey of primary teachers on whether faith formation should continue to take place in primary schools, and if primary schools should have secular or religious patrons.

The INTO is to establish a taskforce on the future of primary school patronage in Ireland and report back within 12 months.

Tomás O’Reilly, a teacher in a Catholic school in Co Roscommon, said he was easily accepted in most Irish schools because he is a heterosexual Catholic male, but many of his colleagues did not have the same experience. “Is the status quo acceptable?” he said. “As a trade unionist and teacher we want to look after everyone equally, even if it does not affect me as much as others.”

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Mr O’Reilly said there should be a choice for teachers, parents and children to have education that does not involve faith formation. “The State has abdicated responsibility to religious organisations for too long. There is a [Government] policy for divestment there and it is a good idea for us to speed it up.”

Some other teachers expressed concern that they could be seen as undermining their school’s ethos. Ella Hurley, said the survey must be anonymous, as only then would teachers feel safe to give their true views.

“Faith formation is a personal matter for families, and article 42 of the Irish Constitution affirms this. But many parents who want to opt their children out are reluctant to do so as they don’t want their child to feel left out, while others live in areas with no multidenominational school and have no choice,” Ms Hurley said.

Not all teachers were in favour, with four speaking against all or part of the plan.

“It is only right that teachers teaching faith formation should be expected to complete training,” said Emer Nelligan, a teacher from Castleisland, Co Kerry. “And they should be adequately qualified.”

Teachers at the conference also criticised the Department of Education for not planning for an adequate supply of teachers for primary and special schools.

Orlaith Ní Fhoghlu, a Dublin delegate, said there were 40,000 children in primary and special schools without full access to a teacher due to the recruitment and retention crisis.

Deirdre Fleming, a special education teacher from Portlaoise, said staff shortages were having a particular impact on Deis (designated disadvantaged) schools, Gaelscoileanna, schools in urban rent-pressure zones and special schools.

“Not one day this year has gone by where we have a full cohort of staff available, and getting substitutes is impossible,” she said. “I have had to cover classes, and my children who have special education needs are not taken that day. This is happening every day.

“These are children with Down syndrome, dyslexia and children with severe emotional or behavioural problems. The other knock-on effect is that the time we withdraw these children is usually the time the class teacher gets more work done, because sometimes they can be disruptive,” said Ms Fleming.

“It is absolutely not the fault of the principals; they have no other choice and they cannot get substitute teachers. For children who consistently miss their special classes they can fall back. These are children who need routine, and they can get disappointed and disillusioned when we don’t come as expected. It is demoralising for us and for them.”

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