UNESCO backed report funded by Integrated Education Fund (IEF) calls for end to ‘Christian focused’ religious education and daily worship in Northern Ireland schools
and live on Freeview channel 276
The paper, by Dr Matt Milliken and Prof Stephen Roulston, argues for “radical change” and a single, more secular education system with an end to all academic selection.
Their report, ‘How education needs to change: A vision for a single system’ received core funding from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) and was produced by the United Nations-funded UNESCO Centre at Ulster University.
It says: “The influence of a Christian-centric perspective pervades not only the daily routine (act of worship) and timetable (the content of the RE syllabus) but also the operational day-to-day and strategic management of schools and, to some extent, the management of the entire education system.”
It calls for the repeal of law requiring schools to teach “Christian focused” RE and to conduct a Daily Act of Collective Worship. It adds that church involvement in the drawing up of the RE specification “needs to be revised” to produce “a genuinely pluralistic and inclusive programme”.
The report proposes “a single system” consisting of “all-ability post-primary schools” and concludes: “One of the greatest catalysts for underachievement in NI appears to be academic selection.”
The Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) responded that the report was one contribution to an ongoing and important debate about the future of education, but suggested that most of its proposals were “not incompatible” with Christian values.
The TRC consists of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations, which transferred 500 schools into state care from the 1930s-50s, subject to statutory guarantees that they would maintain influence.
TRC chairman Dr Andy Brown, said: “We agree that a changing society requires a system of education which promotes social justice and is inclusive and respectful of difference. This is not incompatible with the values of a Christian ethos, which underpin the majority of schools in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “This week has reminded us of the Christian foundations on which our society is built and demonstrated to us all the strength which so many take from this.”
Commenting on the paper, Tina Merron, CEO, of the Integrated Education Fund, said: “The purpose of this briefing paper is to explore how education needs to change and create a vision for a single education system.”
However DUP MLA Diane Dodds responded that NI students achieve “some of the best results in the UK” and that the Fair Start report has already produced 47 actions to improve education across NI. She also noted laws which she said prioritise funding for children in some sectors; In March MLAs passed an Alliance bill, opposed by the DUP, which requires more financial support for integrated education.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools is taking time to review the report. Five other political parties were also invited to comment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The Department notes the publication of the paper from UU’s Unesco Education Centre.
“The paper has been passed to the Panel carrying out the Independent Review of Education for their information. The Independent Review is considering a range of issues with a focus on improving the effectiveness, efficiency and quality of our education system.”