Are Schools about to become Religion Free Zones?

Are Schools about to become Religion Free Zones?
Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’ Sullivan recently issued a statement in relation to the repeal of Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools. This Rule reaffirms the primacy of Religious Instruction in the primary school curriculum. 
With over 90% of primary schools in the country under Catholic patronage, her statement is perhaps the first overt move to reduce the influence of church bodies on education in Ireland, following on from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism.
This week, in excess of 1,100 primary school principals from each of the 26 counties will gather in Citywest Convention Centre for the Annual Conference of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN). The topic of school admissions, curriculum reform and the place of religion in our schools will most likely arise during the course of the conference.
Traditionally, religious instruction is afforded two and a half hours per week in primary schools which equates to 30 minutes per day out of a 5 hour and 40 minute day. The time allocation for Religious instruction normally increases as schools become involved in preparing children for sacraments such as First Holy Communion and Confirmation. 
Unfortunately, the time given to core curriculum subjects such as English, Irish and Maths must be ‘sacrificed’ to enable this liturgical preparation to happen.
However, recent new initiatives introduced into schools such as the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, School Self Evaluation and the roll out of the New Language Curriculum are placing new demands on schools to find the time to implement these reforms.
Principals were recently asked in an IPPN survey to identify the curricular areas that should have a reduced time allocation; more than 8 out of 10 principals identified the area of religious instruction. 
They further suggested that the time traditionally given to religious instruction could be reallocated to other curriculum areas such as the languages, Maths/Science, and particularly Physical Education and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) where a doubling of the time allocation is favoured.

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