Aontú’s Education Spokesperson Gemma Brolly, who is a teacher, has taken aim at a new Ulster University report funded by the Integrated Education Fund which called for ‘radical change’ to education in Northern Ireland, including the scrapping of ‘Christian focused’ teaching.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) backed report funded by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) called for an end to ‘Christian focused’ religious education and daily worship in schools in Northern Ireland.
The research paper said “more controversial issues” should be taught in classrooms, and also advocated for “religiously segregated” schools to be replaced with “joint community” ones.
Ms Brolly, an Irish medium teacher and special needs co-ordinator, said that the report was deeply ‘contradictory’ and signalled a desire to eradicate a Christian ethos from the education system entirely.
The mother and teacher stressed the need for parental choice, and said the paper pushed a false narrative that a Christian ethos is ‘drummed’ into students in schools.
“The research paper from UU’s Unesco Education Centre is just the most recent contradictory piece of ‘information’ intent on eradicating Christian ethos from the education system,” she said. “By placing the blame, for all types of division, firmly on the shoulders of those of us who believe in parental choice”.
“This paper pushes the false narrative that Christian ethos is ‘drummed’ into our students and totally disregards the concept of parental choice. The existence of ‘Christian-Focused Religious Education’ as a choice, offered to parents and their children, enriches our pluralistic society.
The Aontú Rep continued: “We in Aontú, believe in a pluralist society, we believe “Christian-Focused” Education is a wonderful component of our pluralist education system”.
She added that in the context of education, the State must respect the right of parents to ensure that education and teaching conforms with their own religious and philosophical convictions, in accordance with the Human Rights Act.
“How can the removal of parental choice advance ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity?’” she said.
“This research paper states that “Church involvement in the drawing up of the RE specification needs to be revised in order that a genuinely pluralistic and inclusive programme of education can be developed, delivered and quality assured in practice, but this is built upon the groundless claim that Christian-Focused Education exudes inclusivity and pluralism.
“There is no body of evidence to demonstrate this form of education breeds division or sectarianism. There is, however, extensive evidence and examples of Christian-Focused schools overcoming division and welcoming diversity, opening their doors and accommodating, with emphasis on the needs and best interests of the child”.
She also pointed to the high standard of Christian-focused education in the province, adding:
“Many pupils have opted to go to Christian-focused schools to receive a first-rate education where the Christian ethos does not “pervade daily routine” but is naturally intertwined throughout their routine. Such an education is valued because it moulds our young people to be the best they can be, not only within school but within their own communities”.
“Aontú will continue to work to repair and rebuild our education system for each and every child, regardless of what sector of education they belong to. We have great faith in a pluralist education system within a pluralist society and will not allow any individual ethos to be scapegoated for the failures of governments and leaders past,” Ms Brolly concluded.
While the newly published Ulster University paper sets out its vision for a single school system, it also draws attention to a number of obstacles to that.
“Segregation is still endemic in the current system and has proven to be resolutely resistant to almost every effort to introduce progressive reform,” the paper said.
The New Decade New Approach (NDNA) deal previously said the education system in Northern Ireland, with a range of sectors and school types, was “not sustainable”.
An independent review of the education system, as promised in NDNA, is currently underway and is due to report next year. It follows a High Court ruling in July which deemed Christian-focused religious education in Northern Ireland “unlawful”.
The landmark ruling came after the family of a seven-year-old child brought legal action to challenge the current syllabus in controlled primary schools. The case resulted in a Judicial review being brought against Northern Ireland’s Department of Education on behalf of the child, who attends a primary school in Belfast.