Relationship between church and school under scrutiny

Written by: Simon Doyle | Published:

The relationship between churches and schools in Northern Ireland has been called into question.

There is only one major faith-based sector in the North – the Catholic sector – but academics have found that almost every school is “church-related”.

The findings are from a paper by the Transforming Education project at Ulster University, which is examining aspects of the Northern Ireland education system “which are not as effective as they might be”.

The latest study examines statutory requirements for RE and worship in schools. It notes that while the demographic profile of Northern Ireland is changing, educational provision is slow to respond.

Multi-faith approaches have been adopted in Britain and the Republic. However, it notes that the pre-eminence of Christian teaching in the North’s schools is retained “at a level where it may be reasonable to ask whether the RE syllabus is about education or Bible instruction”.

Pupils must study religion from four to 16 years and schools must also provide a daily act of collective Christian worship.

Parents can request their children are withdrawn, but the study found that “schools may not always be transparent about the existence of this option”.

State-controlled schools are non-denominational rather than secular. The report suggests that for such schools, “the balance is tilted firmly in favour of the secular over the religious”.

However, the Controlled Schools Support Council is clear that “controlled schools are church-related and work within the ethos of Christian values and principles”.

Integrated schools are also “essentially Christian in character”, despite having been largely established in the absence of any official church representation.

The report states: “Christianity pervades Northern Irish education and schools have been shown to have difficulty in accommodating those of other faiths and none who choose not to participate in RE and collective worship in school.”


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