With the news today that Richard Bruton wants the ETB to lead an “identification process” to ascertain which Catholic schools will divest to multi-denominational patrons (one of which is the ETB itself) and once they choose the one they like, the government will pay them between €10k and €20k per annum to “lease” the school, it might seem a little bit suspicious to anyone with half an interest in the education system. Why would Richard Bruton wish for the ETB and Catholic Church to effectively run the whole divestment programme and why does it not include any other stakeholders? The following information about ETB Community National Schools might give some insight.
- The Community National School model was first piloted under Mary Hanafin’s reign as an interdenominational model. Without changing the model in any way, they were rebranded as multi-denominational.
- Nowadays, CNS schools describe themselves as multi-belief rather than multi-denominational. Multi-belief presupposes that children have a belief of some sort. Multi-belief is a synonym of interdenominational unless you live in 1984.
- CNS schools follow a programme called Goodness Me Goodness You. It attempts to be a whole school programme to cater for all faiths and none. The NCCA are having to rewrite it because it has failed.
- CNS schools provide Catholic faith formation (which they call sacramental education) during the school day for at least 4 weeks of the school year. This is much less than the minimum requirements outlined by the Catholic Church (36 weeks.) This means that further sacrament preparation is required to fulfil obligations. This is catered for differently in all 11 CNS schools. In some cases, sacrament preparation takes place outside of the agreed 4 weeks. In other cases, it doesn’t happen at all.
- As well as this, during the school year, children are segregated into 4 groups for separate teaching in their faith. There is a de facto guarantee that Catholic children will receive sacrament education as a deal was done with the church to guarantee faith formation for Catholic children. (cf Emma O’Kelly’s report on CNS schools.) Children from other Christian denominations are divided into another group, given that there is a teacher with appropriate qualifications to teach this programme. (This is generally graduates of CICE). There is a third grouping for Muslim children, again with the proviso that there is a suitably qualified teacher or an Imam in the area or from a teacher who goes on a 2 day course. Finally, “others”, which seem to have the acronym HBH (Hindus, Buddhists and Humanists) are taught some generic programme. Anyone who does not fall into the above beliefs joins the HBH group. If there is no Muslim or Christian teacher, they also go to the HBH group.
- It is worth noting that the National Muslim Parents Group has condemned the Goodness Me Goodness You programme (muslimparents.ie) as well as most groups representing secular education.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Community National School model which guarantees Catholic faith formation occurs during the school day is the favoured model of the Catholic Church. In fact, it is not a giant leap to say that Community National Schools are essentially Catholic Schools with built-in alternative classes for other religions and a system that removes the issue of the so-called baptism barrier. No other faith-based group are guaranteed faith formation.
I am sure that Community National Schools are perfectly good schools in every other way. In Ireland, there is no evidence to suggest that any patron body has better quality schools in terms of education and curriculum standards, and anyway, it is almost impossible to measure this.
Ultimately, it looks like the writing is on the wall and Ireland will have failed spectacularly in protecting the human rights of its children. I have seen the above being described as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic or telling the 3rd class passengers that they are better off than the 4th class passengers on the same ship. We need to stop tinkering around with a system that isn’t going to work and start getting real about separating church and state in our education system.