Religious symbols in State schools must reflect ‘entire community’ under new plan – The Irish Times

Religious symbols across hundreds of state-run primary and secondary schools must in the future be reflective of the “entire community” in a new blueprint for the sector.

The framework on ethos, which applies to more than 200 second-level schools run by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and primary schools, is the culmination of a decade-long consultation with schools and religious groups.

It follows a review in recent years which highlighted confusion over whether former vocational schools were “de jure multidenominational, but de facto Catholic”.

This stems from legally binding agreements with the Catholic Church, dating back to the 1970s, which oblige a quarter of these schools to maintain a Catholic ethos and provide students with religious instruction. Some of these schools, for example, still have graduation Masses, symbols from the Catholic faith only and facilitate visits from Catholic religious representatives.

However, under the ETB Ireland patrons’ framework on ethos, all State schools in the future will be underpinned by five core values: excellence in education, care, equality, community and respect.

Under the heading of “equality”, the framework states that this core value should be evident in the “visual images, resources and displays” used in schools. It adds that “religious and belief celebrations which take place throughout the school year are equitable in relation to symbolic representation, time spent and emphasis”.

Where religious symbols are displayed, it says they should be “reflective of the religions and beliefs of the entire school community” and that the community is consulted on the identification of such symbols.

Dr. Seamus Conboy, director of schools with ETB Ireland, said core values ​​have been agreed across all schools, including more than 50 so-called “designated” community colleges at the second level which have legal agreements with the Catholic Church.

“However, discussions are still ongoing with the Irish Episcopal Commission, on behalf of the religious bodies involved in designated community colleges, on how the agreed core values ​​are defined in these schools,” he said.

“There is particular focus in these discussions on how these schools respond to the religion/belief identities of all students in a manner that is consistent with the agreed core values, while at the same time respecting the legal agreements underpinning these schools.”

Many of these designated schools came about through the amalgamation of vocational and church-run schools in the local area. The agreements drawn up on governance and ethos were negotiated at a time when the ETB sector did not have clearly defined core values ​​or a coherent position on the place of religion in their schools.

Dr. Conboy said the framework clearly sets out that all ETB schools are state, coeducational and multidenominational underpinned by common core values.

Prof. Anne Looney of Dublin City University said that for too long, schools under the auspices of old vocational education committees were defined by what they were not.

“In towns around Ireland, they were seen as not ‘the sisters’, not ‘the brothers’ and ‘not for the likes of us’,” she said.

“For the last decade, these schools and those who manage them have been wrestling with the complex task of establishing a positive identity built on who they are, what they value and promote, and how they serve their communities. The ETB sector has shown that the articulation of ethos in a contemporary pluralist Ireland is hard work, requires critical engagement and is an ongoing and continuous process.”

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