Demand for non-religious schools is very low, says Church of Ireland Education Secretary

Press release from The Iona Institute 

Around 200 primary schools throughout the country out of the existing 3,300 schools would serve the needs of parents who want a non-religious education for their children, according to the Secretary of the Church of Ireland Board of Education, Dr Ken Fennelly.

Dr Fennelly will make the remarks tonight at an event on denominational education hosted by The Iona Institute.

The event will also be addressed by Professor Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate College. It will be chaired by Dr Martin Mansergh.

In his address, Dr Fennelly says that he asked the Central Statistics Office for “a breakdown of figures for parents with a child between the ages of 5 and 12 according to religion or lack of”.

Out of a total of 587,014 parents, 27,238 “were expressly no religion or 4.6%.”

He says this equates to the number of Protestant children in the same age-bracket in the country and that this number is served by “nearly 200 schools”.

He continues: “”Given that the two sets of figures are comparable, and that less than 200 schools is enough to serve the Protestant minority then it would not be, in my estimation, too much of a leap to say that the same number would serve non-religious parents”.

In his address, Professor Conway describes as “bizarre” proposals to teach a compulsory world religions course in primary schools, including faith-based schools, called ‘Education about Religions and Beliefs’.

He says: “It is bizarre, in my view, that a faith-based school would be required to offer what is essentially a secularist understanding of religious faith…its introduction in faith-based schools will undoubtedly adversely affect religious instruction and a faith-based school’s characteristic ethos. The issue needs careful and urgent attention”.

He also says that the main responsibility for providing non-religious schools for those who want them lies with the State, not the Churches.

He remarks that, “co-operation in the policy of divestment should be conditional upon tangible commitments in regard to non-interference in the implementation of the characteristic spirit of schools that remain faith-based. This includes in regard to anti-bullying policies, policies on sex education and so on. Incidentally, we urgently need the development of proper faith-based policies in these areas”.