Consultation process for proposed world religions course is farcical

The new questionnaire on faith education is designed to be a stitch up, writes David Quinn

It is said that 96% of primary schools in the Republic of Ireland are controlled by the Churches. For the most part this ‘control’ is illusory. For example, some teachers who spoke to a national newspaper for a recent article said they don’t even bother to teach religion, even though they are required to teach it for half-an-hour a day on average.

A number of other teachers quoted in this paper a fortnight ago spoke about the hostility they sometimes face for talking about their Catholic faith in the staffrooms of Catholic schools.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is now in the process of devising a new course for primary schools called ‘Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics’.

This course will be compulsory. The NCCA is in charge of devising almost everything children learn in school. Therefore it is an extremely powerful and influential body. The Churches have almost no influence over what the Department of Education and the NCCA decide should be taught in schools. 

That alone should show how little ‘control’ the Churches in fact have in their schools.

The proposed introduction of this new course only further illustrates this fact. Prof. Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate College has described the proposal to impose this course on faith schools as “bizarre”.

He is right, because the effect of it will be that in religion class the religion of the school will be taught as true, while in ERB and Ethics class, the attitude will be more agnostic in character. In the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusion’ a relativistic attitude towards religion will be taught.

The consultation document issued by the NCCA last week about ERB and Ethics almost expressly makes this point. It acknowledges that faith schools currently teach religion through a “faith lens” and says that ERB and Ethics will adopt a more “critical” and “pluralist” approach. 

These two approaches are fundamentally incompatible. You can’t have one class saying, in effect, that the religion of the school is true and another class saying it only might be true. 


ERB and Ethics is supposed to be about showing respect for all religions, but how many Muslim parents (say) would want their children implicitly taught that their religion only might be true? This is the approach taken by State schools in France and it has spectacularly failed to make French Muslims feel integrated into French society.

ERB and Ethics completely defeats the purpose of faith schools. A faith school is established by those who want their children to be formed in the religion of their parents. In the case of Christians it is taken as a given that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, that we should be his disciples, that we should live according to his example and that a Christian school should teach us to love, and follow and worship him and not teach that he only might be ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’.

The fact that ERB and Ethics is being welcomed by people who care not a jot for religion tells its own tale. 

The NCCA has invited interested parties to have their say about the course. If you go on to its website ( you will find the course mentioned on its homepage. This will then lead you to a number of questionnaires about the course aimed at different stake-holders, among them parents.

All of the questionnaires are so leading as to be farcical. 

The questionnaire for parents asks: “To what extent would you agree or disagree that the following statements reflect appropriate aims and ideas for a curriculum in ERB and Ethics.” Here is one of the statements respondents are asked to agree or disagree with:

‘I would like my child to develop self-awareness, confidence, their personal beliefs and positive identities.’

Here is another:

‘I would like my child to express empathy and joy with human diversity and form deep, caring human connections.’

And another:

‘I would like my child to recognise unfairness, injustice and the impact of discrimination.’

You should get the general drift by now. Who could possibly disagree with any of these statements? You might as well ask people whether they like a good meal or enjoy warm, sunny days.

In other words, the questionnaires are expressly designed to win agreement that the course is a good idea. The NCCA should be embarrassed at doing business this way. There is also an implicit assumption in the questions that some of the aims of ERB and Ethics cannot be or are not being achieved in other ways.

Children can easily be taught about fairness and justice in religion class. In fact, that is already the case. The same goes for developing self-awareness and confidence, or for forming “deep, caring human connections”.

Properly done, the same can be achieved in Relationships and Sexuality Education class.

If the NCCA was more honest it would instead provide interested members of the public with arguments for and against the proposed course. It would, for example, present the public with a one-minute video showing someone giving the case for the course and a one-minute video showing someone giving the case against the course. It would then ask people for their opinions.

But even then the NCCA would have to be careful to ensure insofar as this is possible that it was receiving the opinions of the general public and not of campaigners from either side.

As it stands, however, the NCCA consultation process is designed simply to win support for ERB and Ethics. Its questionnaires are pre-determining the outcome and that is not nearly good enough.