A new report from the Department of Education's Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, discussing ways to make primary schools more inclusive for children of all faiths and none, has been described as “a step in the right direction” by Breda O'Brien of the Iona Institute.
The original set of recommendations from the Forum gave rise to fears that the ethos of religious schools would be watered down. For example, the recommendations said prayers must be ‘inclusive, which raised the possibility that Christian prayers would not be deemed sufficiently 'inclusive' towards non-Christian pupils.
Similarly, a recommendation that all the symbols of all the religions of the pupils in a school be put on display raised the possibility that it would become much harder for a school to show through its religious symbols that it belongs to a particular religion.
The new report, however, makes no mention of the content of prayer, and merely “Rather, it is suggested that other artefacts reflective of other traditions could be displayed in a school as part of a process of celebrating diversity and educating pupils about the existence of other religions, beliefs and traditions”, perhaps at particular times of year.
Commenting on the new report, Breda O’Brien said: “While it will require closer study, it seems that many of the concerns of those who believed the original recommendations went too far appear to have been taken on board. This report is far more moderate and appears to strike the right balance between making denominational schools more genuinely inclusive while also respecting the ethos and identity of those schools”.
She concluded: “It must always be borne in mind that a Department of Education survey of parents in more than 200 schools in 43 areas showed that there is actually very little concrete demand for a transfer of denominational schools to new patron bodies. This indicates that in reality the vast majority of parents already find their local denominational schools to be inclusive”.