Here to Help

Since 2002, we've been helping Irish primary teachers in all areas of the job, from advice on technology to getting a job. We also post regularly on all social media. We're here to help so ask us anything.

Blog Post

Why Pluralism in Education Doesn't Work

I was listening to a debate on the radio about the Angelus last week. The argument comes up every so often in the media and usually goes along the lines of somebody suggesting RTE should get rid of it from TV and lots of people spending their money texting about why it shouldn’t. RTE have decided, in some effort to be more inclusive to other religions, to make the imagery more multicultural. I’m struggling to think of the logic of playing a Catholic call to prayer on the airwaves while simultaneously trying to be inclusive to everyone.

During the debate, the main arguments that seemed to come up were that if RTE were going to play the Angelus, they should also play calls to prayer for other religions. The other argument was that the Angelus is part of Irish culture and should remain in place, (usually followed by the general xenophobia of telling people to go back to their own country if they don’t like “our” rules.)

From my point of view, I don’t particularly have a problem with RTE playing the Angelus. The reason for this is because I have the choice to switch to one of the hundred or so other channels that exist or to not watch the television at that time at all. The Angelus doesn’t particularly offend me as it doesn’t affect me as it is not forced upon me. The notion of having a version of the Angelus for every religion on RTE is ridiculous as the television wouldn’t stop ringing different types of bells trying to keep every culture or faith included.

It’s almost the same story with our education system. It is impossible to create an education system that provides faith formation or religious instruction for every belief system, yet this is exactly what the current policy of the Irish government is trying to do. Theoretically, the government want to give a choice to all parents to send their children to schools that offer faith formation in their chosen belief system as well as a school that offers no faith formation or one that provides faith formation for part of the school year. If one looks at a typical set up that “provides” this choice, you might have a town with several Catholic schools, a Church of Ireland school, an Educate Together school and a Community National School.

Let’s say there are exactly the same number of children in the town to fit in the particular models. Therefore, you will have Catholic schools full of Catholic children, a CoI school full of CoI children and the rest of the children will have to decide between the Educate Together or Community National School. It is clear that a system like this segregates children by faith, which doesn’t lead to a pluralistic society, because the children in the faith-based schools never get to meet, socialise or learn about their counterparts because they are not in the same school as them. Clearly this is a problem for pluralism in education and goes against its aims.

While one can switch a TV off or change channels when the Angelus is on, the same can’t be said for going to primary schools in Ireland. For example, while in reality, one can homeschool their children, this isn’t really an option for working families and isn’t really fair to force on someone. How about changing the channel and going to an alternative model of education? When the only channels available to you are mainly Catholic (94% of schools), the choice isn’t always there, and even if it is, they are hugely oversubscribed.

The obvious thing to do is create an education system that doesn’t require choice: a one-size-fits-all model. The government seems to believe the Community National School model is the solution to this uniquely Irish problem.

In theory, it pleases everyone. If you are Catholic, you can still get your faith formation during the school day.  If you aren’t Catholic, you can still come to this school without being discriminated against. The minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, believes that the Community National School (CNS) model is the way to go and plans seem to be afoot to roll this model of education out across the country. Her theory is while single denominational schools can only really provide a fully inclusive day for one faith and interdenominational schools can provide for two, the government claims that Community National Schools can provide for all faiths and none.

The CNS model seems to work in the following way. Children are enrolled based on locality and age and no one can be discriminated against by religious beliefs of parents. During the day, there is 30 minutes provided for the CNS curriculum, which is called Goodness Me, Goodness You. At the end of each lesson, children are told… if you believe in one god, here is a prayer to say and if you believe in 2 or more gods or none, here is a reflection you can think about. For some reason, nobody is wreaking havoc about this blatant segregation of children based on their parents’ religious beliefs. To make matters worse, for part of the school year, (I have heard it is anything between 4 and 8 weeks), children are physically segregated for sacramental preparation during this time so the Catholics can do their communion and confirmation practices while the other faiths (unless they have a qualified teacher to teach provide them with some form of faith formation) hang in a different classroom doing something else. (There are no other rites of passage being taught in any CNS as there are no teachers from other faith backgrounds, as far as I am aware.) Again, nobody is kicking up a fuss here.

To add to this, the Catholic Church in 2004, according to this article, “laid down as a minimum non-negotiable tenet that Catholic children should receive religious education and faith preparation for Communion and Confirmation within the school working day, and be separated for this from the rest of the pupils.”

Theoretically, a CNS may have a classroom with 30 children, 29 of which could be Catholic and 1 might have no religion. For up to 8 weeks of the year, the Catholics would get their faith formation and the one child would be left on their own doing something else. Interestingly though, if there were 29 children with lots of different faith backgrounds and 1 child who was Catholic, the 1 Catholic child would receive sacrament preparation and the rest of the class would receive nothing.

It’s no surprise really that the Irish solution to this Irish problem doesn’t work because children become segregated based on their parents’ belief systems.

How about a school that does not discriminate at all on the basis of faith? How about a school where children are never segregated at any time during the school day whatever their belief system? How about a school where any faith formation happens outside of the school day in the communities they are serving? Interestingly, the actual answer to these questions already exists. While I don’t want to sound like an advertisement for Educate Together, they are the only patron body that can claim that in 100% of their schools there is never a point in the school day where a child will be left out based on the beliefs of themselves or their families. The children learn about and discuss many different faiths and none, and no one is told whether they are correct and certainly nobody is removed from the class at any time because of this.

Pluralism in Education Patronage can’t work. It creates segregation according to faith. The answer isn’t to lower the percentages in favour of lots of different faith patronages. Even in countries like the UK, where there is a minority of faith schools, these schools have not only created segregation according to faith but also to economic class systems. The answer isn’t even to create schools where segregation happens during the school day. Right now, Educate Together are the main providers of a system which does none of these things. However, even if the government did not agree with all the tenets of Educate Together, they would do very well to create a model of education that ensures the same access to education for everyone.

Comments (0)

  1. steve white 25th October 2015 at 7:43 pm Reply

    you have only 1 public service TV station that plays the Angelus before the main evening news

    1. admin 25th October 2015 at 8:16 pm Reply

      That’s my point, Steve

      1. steve white 26th October 2015 at 3:35 pm Reply

        no there are not 100s of other public service stations there’s only 1 and it plays the Angelus before the main evening news

        1. admin 29th October 2015 at 10:14 pm Reply

          If you have a TV, you have a minimum of 8 channels to watch. You also have an option not to watch the TV for one minute too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

What you might not know about the ETB Community National School model

With the news today that Richard Bruton wants the ETB to lead an “identification Predictions for 2017

Every year, I try to predict what the big stories will be in primary

What next for ERBE?

As part of the government’s Pluralism and Patronage Forum, which is supposed to ensure the

Diversity in Primary Teaching

The Teaching Council hold a conference every year called Féilte. One of the topics

A Look at the Action Plan for Education

The Action Plan for Education was published today by Minister Richard Bruton. The government

Different points to enter Teacher Training College

RTE revealed that DCU’s newly formed Teacher Training course, which amalgamated 3 previous colleges of

Twitter and Droichead

There was a lot of talk about Droichead on social media over the last

Education Equality: Gathering for Change March

I was delighted and honoured to have had the opportunity to speak at the

What are the best Summer Courses for 2016?

Every year we scour the Summer Course list. This year there seems to be

What is the biggest issue for Community National Schools?

The Community National School model is being lauded as the ideal solution for primary education

What Vehicle will get us over the Bridge?

With the overwhelming majority of teachers voting to not cooperate with Droichead in its

Droichead: The People have Spoken

Yesterday, the INTO revealed the results of the ballot regarding non-cooperation with the Droichead

What's the difference between the CNS model and the Catholic model?

Another government, another disappointing day for education. Jan O’Sullivan has left her mark and I

Why Ticking "No Religion" Shouldn't Matter in Schools

For people without a religion, the census always draws up conversation. Mostly, it’s to do

INTO Congress: A Lesson in how to do Congress

The INTO congress was on this week. You might have missed it because you

How to make denominational schools more inclusive

Around 96% of Irish primary schools are under the patronage of a religious body,

Primary Schools: Inclusive or Tolerant?

As most people know, there are a number of parents in Ireland who have

Infographic of Survey on Inclusiveness

I developed an infographic based on the data received from my survey on how

How inclusive are Catholic Schools?

Recently, The Irish Independent carried an article with the headline, Catholic Schools are as inclusive

#GE16 and Primary Education: Religion in Schools

As we come up to the General Election, I’m looking at the various parties

Is it ethical to publish League Tables?

The Irish Independent published, what they called, a definitive league table of the best schools

The Mathematics of Patronage and Pluralism

Between 96% and 98% of Irish primary schools are denominational in patronage, which means

2016 Predictions

As we come to the last day of year, it is traditional at to make predictions

What will removing Rule 68 actually do?

One of the rules of National Schools that has been causing much debate over

Multidenominational: A long word, long-abused

The education landscape used to be an easy one to maneuver. Between the 1920s

Which dark stain will be removed in 2016?

Ask most teachers who the best education minister was and you’ll most likely hear

Can the new NCCA Ethics Curriculum work in Ireland?

It always strikes me as odd the stories about primary education that get noticed

What are teachers for?

Michelle McBride writes about healthy eating in schools in her article called “It is

Media Focuses on Religion during Maths Week

There were a number of stories in the newspapers and media this week surrounding

Thoughts on the Digital Strategy

The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 is the latest attempt by the government to

Should we be Celebrating the 1916 Rising?

Earlier this week, two army officials came to my school to present us with

An Alternative to Droichead

Following my blog post on Droichead last week, I thought I might expand on my

Droichead: A bridge too far

Droichead is a new model of induction and probation for newly qualified teachers, which

No wishes for pay equality from INTO

This week an email went out to all INTO members to welcome them back

Burren National School: A symbol of the divestment process

Today, Educate Together announced that the proposed new Educate Together school in Castlebar was

Where do unbaptised children fit in?

I’ve been following the recent discussions about unbaptised children accessing primary education over the last

Lansdowne Road Agreement: Vote Yes or No?

I usually have strong convictions about issues affecting the education system but I am

Who are the role models in primary schools?

Last weekend, I was part of a panel at the Excited Festival of Learning

Anything to Gain from Gain Time? #DojoChatEU

I find it difficult to attend ClassDojo’s chats every week so when this week’s

Why We're Voting Yes to Marriage Equality

Commenting on referenda is not something that we generally do at but the

Should schools be allowed to discriminate?

The headline grabber from the INTO congress was Jan O’Sullivan’s announcement that new enrollment

Ten Things to Keep in Mind at INTO Congress

Every year, during the spring holidays, the media takes an interest in education as the

Swapping Books for iPads?

The Irish Independent reported recently  that an anonymous donor had given a school in Fermoy, Co

Is all well with the new well-being guidelines?

In the last week, primary schools all received their first paper-based document from the

Why the INTO need to support Marriage Equality

The campaign for marriage equality in May seems to be overwhelmingly supported by teachers

Safe Internet Day: Can one day save our children?

Today is Safer Internet Day and Webwise as usual are doing brilliantly, positive things

One School's Plea to the NCSE

The new proposed NCSE model is likely to be sanctioned very soon. I wrote

IPPN 2015 Review

The annual IPPN conference, the largest educational conference in Ireland, where over 1,200 principals

Denominational Schools and the Upcoming Marriage Referendum

The upcoming referendum on marriage equality has sparked some conversation among teachers who work

Why we don't need to start teaching coding in primary schools

Ciaran Cannon is one of the most innovative politicians I know and he is

Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed: Web Summit

I was delighted to get the opportunity to go along to the Web Summit

Primary Schools and Broadband: The biggest issue in education today?

Following on from a conversation on the wonderful CESI list, I thought I would

10 Educational Books that have stayed with me

Facebook is awash with challenges from ice-buckets to listing how you’re grateful for the

A short guide to religion in primary schools

Over the last number of years, the population of Ireland has changed. One of the

Why we should care about Ireland's Human Rights Record in Education

Last week, the Irish government was given a major slap on the wrist for

Who Jan O'Sullivan shouldn't Hire as her Advisor

Jan O’Sullivan is our new Education Minister and, as a new member to the cabinet,

Five more things the new Minister for Education should do…

Following on from Fintan O’Mahoney’s excellent article, “Ten things the new Minister for Education

What will Ruairi Quinn's Legacy be?

Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, announced his resignation today. The announcement was met with mixed

Is the NCSE reform even less equitable?

With much fanfare, the NCSE are reforming how resources are given to schools for

What does the end of XP support mean for Irish schools?

If you walk into most primary schools, you’ll find a vast array of different

Draft Primary Language Curriculum Consultation:Your input needed!

Draft Primary Language Curriculum Consultation:Your input needed! I posted about the draft primary language curriculum

INTO Congress: How should teachers behave?

Teachers are professionals in the same way doctors and lawyers are. Society expects professionals

4 Problems with the new Anti-Bullying Procedures

The government’s anti-bullying procedures are to be ratified in all schools before the 11th

Are schools to blame for us not speaking Irish? (#edchatie)

This week’s chat on #edchatie on Twitter was very interesting and the subject of

Fitness to teach is all about motivating teachers to love their job-Part 2

Self-actualisation and flow In my first post on performance-related pay, I spoke about the process

Public Consultation for a new Digital Strategy for Schools

A couple of days ago, the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, launched a public

Cutting the cost of school uniforms? Why not cut them altogether?

Irish parents are to be balloted on school uniforms in the coming weeks in

How to save the Irish language

One of the most popular conversations I have with non-teachers is about the Irish

The Literacy Shed

In my free time, which isn’t very much, I love, love, love writing and

Blog Awards show sharing breeds success

Last night I attended the Blog Awards in Naas. It was a glitzy affair,

Should be more socially responsible?

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

How will the new enrollment laws affect primary schools?

Ruairi Quinn has welcomed teachers back to school with new legislation surrounding enrollment in

Shouldn't we ensure Web 2.0 is not anonymous?

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

A Step towards Paper-Free Roll Books

The Department of Education were busy during the summer making some more circulars and

Should we ban children from using

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

Should we shut down

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m asking some questions about social media in

JobBridge Controversy

JobBridge is a government internship scheme that that was designed to provide work experience

Should we be happy with Quinn's U-turn on Resource Hours?

Today, the minister for education, Ruairi Quinn reversed the most recent cut he had

Cutting through the latest spin on cuts to education

A day or so after the majority of primary school teachers decided to vote

Irish Primary Classrooms according to ERSC study:Not the best!

Studies Yesterday, you may have heard about a study from the ERCS has found that

Why Standardised Testing plans are rubbish

Last year, as part of the government’s literacy and numeracy improvement plan, primary school

Before you vote on Croke Park 2…

Croke Park 2 has caused a lot of discussion in the teaching community. The

Textbooks, Post Holders and Teacher's Autonomy?

I trained to become a teacher in the UK back in 2002 after “teaching”

The online rollbook is coming

Last week, at the IPPN conference, words that I never thought I would hear

Wifi Warning or Scaremongering?

Image from During the week, I received an email from an organisation called IDEA,

Predictions for 2013

Last year we predicted that 2012 was going to be the year of the Review of 2012

Every December, we look back on the year and remember some of the highs

SSE: Shifting the Bell Curve

In my last article about the SSE (School Self-Evaluation), I wrote about how I

Couch Soundbite Doesn't Sit Comfortably

There was something that grated on me when I saw the highly retweeted soundbite

Primary Education and the 2013 Budget

Ruairi Quinn has to make around €100m of cuts to the education budget today.

A Day Without Technology

Camara Education set a challenge to see if we could live without technology for

Thoughts after absorbing SSE

I’m largely in favour of the new School Self-Evaluation, (SSE), that was launched a

The Gathering Letter writing project

Gabriel Byrne is not a fan of the Gathering but that doesn’t mean you

Do Teachers need Honours Maths?

  What does atan(y,x) do? If you did well in your Leaving Certificate Honours Maths

Should teachers be techies in 21st Century schools?

Following a very interesting tweet on last week’s #edchatie, a contributor said that teacher

Killing Primary Education

Screenshot from Irish Times article Back in October, The Irish Times ran a feature outlining

Interviews via Video Conference

A few years ago I was asked an interesting question about whether it would

Technology in Schools in the Dark Ages?

Great – another article damning schools and the Department of Education for failing the youth

INTO uses Social Media during Congress

It’s good to see leadership in education. An example of this is in the

Do we need Teaching Council 2.0?

It hasn’t been the best couple of months for the Teaching Council. Established six

Best Schools? Another missed opportunity.

Sunday newspapers often feature supplements on different topics. This week the Sunday Business Post

Technology and Pedagogy – not a chicken and egg

The IPPN conference is the biggest conference for primary school prinicpals in Europe with

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 3)

The final part of my letter to Ruairi Quinn… Has there been any mention of

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 2)

Continuing from my letter from the last day, here is part 2… Instead, in the

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 1)

After attending the BETT conference in the UK, I experienced Michael Gove for the

Thoughts on Ruairí Quinn's Plan for Literacy and Numeracy

Ruairí Quinn has figured out how we can improve literacy and numeracy standards in

Survey Results: Web 2.0 in Schools

As part of’s competition to win a HD Flip Cam, participants answered some

Should Moodle be used in Primary Schools?

Moodle is a tool for creating online courses and virtual learning environments (VLEs).  When

Labour – Fine Gael Education Programme

With a new government in place, a few decisions between the two parties had

What do Jedward and Positivity Week have in common?

There is a link, trust me. I am a member of the IPPN but that

A Reaction to Falling Literacy and Numeracy Levels

I wanted to comment a bit on some of the proposals from the government

PISA reveals worrying results for Ireland

According to the research of PISA 2009, only 6.6% of students questions did not

We need an update on kids' safety.

Here’s a transcript of Rozz’s recent article published in the Think Tank section of

ICT Grant = Demise of Gaeilge?

Recently, Irish primary schools were allocated a share of €25 million from the Department

Where do you like to sit when you are the teacher?

The Desk at the top of the classroom! (and organisational settings for you to

Technology Upgraded, Teaching Downgraded?

I remember my first day at school vividly because everyone laughed at me.  My

Douglas Adams, The Fourth R and Learning

I was happy to see that technology was on the agenda at the annual

12 reasons to have Computerised Roll Books

Imagine it’s 11:30am on June 30th.  What are you doing?  Apart from trying to

International Study of Interactive Whiteboards

Last year I took part in an international study of Interactive Whiteboard use.

Saving Money for ICT

I came across a great article from Open Source Schools, a British web site,

Why don't VEC primary schools have web sites?

If I want to find out about a school for a particular reason, the

ICT in Education Conference 2010

Last year was the first year I attended the ICT in Education Conference in

A Case for Computer Rooms

Computer rooms were on top of every primary school’s wishlist back in the late

Social Networking and Bullying

With the news that Bebo may soon be no more,  I asked colleagues was

My Twitterversary

I’ve been using Twitter for a while now and am about to tweet for

What have the Teaching Council ever done for us?

Have recently discovered Inside Education on 103.2 Dublin City FM. Simon introduced me to

Why IPPN works

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment about how the net generation think,

The brains of Spain are mainly very sane

I was sent a press release from Promethean Ireland entitled “Promethean Wins Major Spanish

Talkin' 'bout iGeneration

I’m a big fan of Conor Galvin, from UCD’s school of education.  I have

Technical Support in Schools (Irish Style)

We all know that primary schools are underfunded. We all know that the

€150m for Smart Schools isn't smart at all

I feel that I should reiterate that I have deep concerns about the €150m

Why Blogging is Best – a digiteach article

I was asked to write a follow-up article about my workshop at this year’s